Last week, Nina Lath Gupta, the MD of National Film Development Corporation, was sacked by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, with immediate effect. She allegedly flouted policies — which includes releasing ads to selected TV channels beyond a limit, and, not following due procedure in utilisation of funds for restoration of films.
It's a decision that is baffling, and saddening, for Gupta is considered, by colleagues and collaborators, as a visionary who reinvented the state-run film body — established in 1975 to promote and produce 'quality cinema'. She had an understanding of the workings of independent cinema. "Independent Indian cinema sorely needs a national advocate to bring its best films to the world. For 12 years Nina Lath Gupta did that work bravely. No more," Cameron Bailey, the director of Toronto International Film Festival, wrote on Twitter, on Saturday.
In the last few years, practically every important independent feature film— from Ship of Theseus (2013) to Miss Lovely (2014), to Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017), to Newton (2017) — has, at some stage of its development, benefited from NFDC's new initiatives, implemented by Gupta.
Film Bazaar — the annual film market that takes place alongside the International Film Festival of India, Goa — is the biggest platform for filmmakers in India(and South Asia) to find potential buyers. Started in 2007, it is a notable event for international sales agents, distributors and festival programmers as well. Through programmes like Screenwriter's Lab, Work-in-progress lab, Co-production lab, the NFDC has backed a number of nameless, talented first-time filmmakers.
Gupta's tenure began in 2006. Here are 5 of its most telling results:
1. The Lunchbox (2013)
Ritesh Batra's debut feature film, about two lonely souls in Mumbai falling in love through letters sent in tiffin boxes, is one of Film Bazaar's biggest success stories. It was a part of the Screenwriters Lab, that helps screenwriters polish their screenplays under the mentorship of international experts, in 2011. It is in the lab that The Lunchbox was selected for IFFR's CineMart, where it found its foreign co-producers: Cédomir Kolar, and Danis Tanovic (director of the Academy award winning No Man's Land). Batra's film won an award at the Cannes Film Festival, and a nomination in the BAFTA awards, it had a successful theatrical run in India, and abroad, in 2013. Batra is a major filmmaker now. He has already made two international films, including one with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, and is making another one with Elisabeth Moss.
2. Court (2014)
When Chaitanya Tamhane took his subversive courtroom drama to Film Bazaar's Co-Production Lab in 2012, he didn't find a producer. But he met Paulo Bertolin from the Venice Film Festival, who kept track of Court's development, and eventually selected it for his festival in 2014 — a testimony to Film Bazaar's reputation as a place to network with the best of the best in the world of cinema. Court won two prizes in Venice— 2 years later, he was in the jury — and began its glorious run in the festival circuit. It won the National award, it was India's entry to the Oscars, and found a theatrical release. Tamhane was chosen by Academy award winning director Alfonso Cuaron(Gravity, Children of Men) as a part of the Rolex Mentor & Protégés Arts Initiative.
3. Titli (2014)
With Film Bazaar, and the various labs, NFDC is trying to solve the problems that a first-time independent filmmaker might face at each stage of making a film: right from the scripting, to finding potential buyers. Kanu Behl's Titli, which depicts the violent life of a family of car-jackers in Delhi, went through the Screenwriter's Lab, and Co-production market in 2012, and Work-in-progress lab in 2013, before it was screened at Un Certain Regard Cannes Film Festival in 2014. Titli's co-writer Sharat Katariya's debut feature film Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), a comedy featuring an overweight heroine that challenged the culture of fat-shaming, was a part of the Screenwriter's Lab, 2011.
4. Chauthi Koot (2015)
Gurvinder Singh's Chauthi Koot, an unblinking look at the climate of paranoia in Punjab after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, premiered at Cannes Film Festival, 2015. Singh's film was one of the last NFDC co-productions, but when it still needed funds for completion, it turned to Film Bazaar. "Those 3-4 days are very valuable. You come face to face with important producers, especially from Europe. And you have a chance of meeting somebody who latches on to your project," said Singh, over the phone from Vancouver. Singh's sophomore film, released in India, and France. "I wouldn't have been able to make either of my two films without her,"he adds. Singh's first film, Anhe Ghore Da Daan (2012), also produced by NFDC, has found audience in the unlikeliest of places: international flights, where you'll find many NFDC titles. Its an extension of 'Cinemas of India', a web portal where one can pay and watch restored NFDC films, an initiative started by Gupta in 2012.
5. Thithi (2016)
A tiny Kannada film, made by a 25-year-old filmmaker and a group of non-actors, went on to win prizes at the Locarno International Film Festival, thanks to NFDC's Work-in-progress lab. In the lab, Raam Reddy's debut feature not only won the grant for post-production, but also found an international co-producer in Sunmin Park. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Mumbai film festival and had a successful run in theatres. Thithi's co-writer Ere Gowda's directorial debut Balekampa, selected in the Work-in-progress lab, 2017, won the FIPRESCI award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam last month. It proves that the rise of the regional cinemas of India and the impact of Film Bazaar — Fandry(2013), Killa(2014) — is no coincidence.
Disclaimer: Anupama Chopra, Editor of Film Companion, is on the board of directors at NFDC.