NFDC will step in where it’s not commercially viable for private sector: Nina Lath Gupta, Managing Director

By Nandita Dutta • Published on May 3, 2012

Nina Lath Gupta

  • By December 2012, NFDC to launch new training programme for mid-career professionals
  • NFDC will promote India as a destination to make films at Cannes Film Festival
  • Co-production with other countries is the way forward

[F]rom the glass wall of her cabin on the sixth floor of the Discovery of India building, Nina Lath Gupta oversees her team working frantically for the Cannes Film Festival. She is happy that four Indian films have made it to the premier film festival in its 65th edition. With a welcoming smile and the composure of a corporate honcho, she talks passionately about the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).

Gupta is the Managing Director of NFDC, and one of its roles entails promoting Indian cinema at international film festivals. How NFDC has contributed to this landmark year for Indian cinema at Cannes isn’t very overt, yet significant.

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely was at NFDC’s Work-in-Progress lab 2011, Vasan Bala was selected for NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab in 2010 and Anurag Kashyap, besides being a regular to Film Bazaar, was one of the six filmmakers that NFDC promoted at Cannes last year.

Nina Lath Gupta is the person behind these initiatives that gave NFDC a new lease of life. Not only has she revived the body, but turned it around into a profit making company in a short span of time.

Gupta speaks about the different aspects of filmmaking like editing and background score like a pro but claims she doesn’t know much about cinema per se. She is driven by clarity of vision and strong belief in the raison d’être of the developmental body she works for. Nina Lath Gupta in a conversation with Nandita Dutta

What is your vision for NFDC?

NFDC was never intended to be just a funding body. It’s a development body and development has to necessarily be across the entire gamut of the film environment starting from training and script development to exhibition. The vision of NFDC derives from the very title of the company; it’s a film development body. So NFDC should really be stepping in wherever there is a need for development initiatives. And that will always be a very dynamic process that will change according to the needs of the hour. If there is something that the industry needs today, it may not need tomorrow. It is NFDC’s job to step in where it is not commercially viable for the private sector.

What do you identify these areas to be, where NFDC needs to step in?

In the current scenario, one of the important areas we have identified is script development. There is a gap in training in other spheres as well which needs to be addressed. Then there is encouraging and promoting new talent. Not just filmmaking talent but across the board, whether it is writers or people involved in other spheres of the film business. Then there is exhibition. There are not enough avenues for the exhibition of the kinds of films that we have always supported. Also, overseas promotion is a key aspect. Another key aspect is facilitating partnerships internationally because that was completely missing in this country. Perhaps the only agency some years ago that co-produced films with international partners was NFDC. I do believe that if you are looking at taking Indian cinema beyond boundaries, the way to do it is to engage with partners at every stage of the project and not just in the final stage. That era is over.

What about the specialty theatres that NFDC planned to set up for exhibition of alternative content?

Every country has specialty theatres. I have been talking about it for a while and it has still not taken off. I really want it to take off soon.

How do you plan to promote Indian cinema at international film festivals?

We intend to position Indian cinema as it stands today, which is something that’s been happening for many years. But that is at a superficial level. If you look at it from a more complex level, it is a business that is governed by partnerships. If you see how films are being made in other countries, co-production is really the way people are going which is why we set up Film Bazaar in 2007 because we felt that you have got to engage at an earlier level.

This happened due to my own interactions with festival programmers and international sales agents where I would ask them why Indian content is lagging behind. Very often when I would show films to the programmers of film festivals (I’m talking about premier film festivals here), they would say: Oh that was a great film! If only the edit could have been better, if only the background score was a little different.

Our entire Film Bazaar initiative really evolved out of this feedback I got from various people. And I realized that if you are looking to position a film internationally, it’s very important to engage at a preliminary level, to be able to bring about a synergy in the product and the demands of the market, the demands of the environment that you want to show the film in. So that is how the co-production market got set up. That is how the Screenwriters’ lab came about: where we don’t teach people how to write (we assume that they know how to write) but we help them to fine tune their scripts further to make it an international project.

It took us five years to get there but I think last year was really successful. Ritesh Batra’s Dabba is now being chased by producers and sales agents the world over. Vasant Nath’s Sebastian Wants to Remember was another popular script and very much talked about.

Then we set up the Work-in-Progress Lab. We got this feedback that it’s very critical how you approach the film at the rough cut stage. What you keep in, what you throw out. What kind of music you put, where your edit could be tighter. That is how the Work-in-Progress lab at the Film Bazaar evolved.

So there are twin initiatives that are happening at the international level. On one hand we are bringing about project related more meaningful partnerships and exposure. On the other hand, we are also positioning Indian cinema on an as- is basis.

The initiatives are bringing results. Miss Lovely, which is going to Cannes was at Work-in-Progress lab.

Yes. It was also in the co-production market some years ago, in 2008.

What are the initiatives that NFDC is taking at Cannes this year?

As always, our work is to connect more and more filmmakers to producers abroad, to try and build up more and more partnerships with sales agents and festival programmers. We would promote the four films from India: Miss Lovely, Kalpana, Gangs of Wasseypur and Peddlers. We also want to promote India as a destination to work in, both in terms of whether they want to come and shoot in India or come and engage with Indian producers. Then we want to connect with countries, because now co-production treaties have become the way forward. Across the world, subsidized funding kicks in only when you have a co-production treaty with the country from where the co-producing partner comes. We want to acquaint the people of India with what are the benefits of co-producing with a particular country. So we are having a series of sessions on that, with New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Canada and Israel.

The government had proposed a Film Commission for that purpose.

That’s at a conceptual stage. Across the world, they have Film Commissions in place. So, conceptually everyone is on the same page that there is a need. The Ministry of Tourism and The Ministry of I&B, everyone is in agreement on that. It’s just a question of working out the modalities.

What kind of films is NFDC looking to produce?

NFDC should be producing films that push boundaries. It should be making films that explore the creative medium further and contribute to cellular history in the time to come. I think that is what NFDC did with great success in the 70s and the 80s. I’m not saying we always do that. Mistakes are always made in the films we choose. It’s a medium where your script could be brilliant but it may not translate into a film that well. That’s a risk you always have to take.

NFDC wants to work with new talent and encourage the multi lingual diversity of Indian cinema because that is so unique to India. Each region and each language brings a different story.

What are the films currently in production?

We have just wrapped up Anup Singh’s Qissa. We have also co-produced Q’s Tasher Desh and Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. We are co-producing Govind Nihalani’s film in Marathi called as Jhala Anant Hanumant, based on a play by Vijay Tendulkar. There are several regional language films in the pipeline.

How does NFDC plan to commemorate 100 years of Indian cinema in 2013?

NFDC is planning some initiatives that can be broadly divided into three categories. Some immediate ones to celebrate, some would be aimed at reaching out to the audiences and some would have to be long term from the industry’s perspective.

Any new initiative that NFDC is planning?

I think training is going to be our next big initiative. We certainly need to focus on training, we do see a gap. Look at the amount of potential talent in various cities across the country. By December, we should have a new training programme launched in active collaboration with international partners.

Training programme for filmmakers?

Yes, for mid-career professionals.

Also, a really special baby that I would like to see built up in time is reviving the film society movement that played a huge role in the past. I’m not just talking about the metros but the smaller cities and colleges and universities.

Tell us something about the woman behind the Managing Director?

I spent 16 years in the Indian Revenue Service and then I resigned and came to NFDC. I truly believe in what NFDC does. I’m not trying to give a clichéd reply. But I truly believe NFDC is an institution that played a huge role in the past. I don’t believe, contrary to popular perception, that it has outlived its utility. It still has a huge role to play.

Were you also interested in cinema?

I clearly approach it from a developmental administrative perspective. I am no expert on films. But I have clarity of vision on what NFDC as an institution should be doing. I hope my vision is correct.

I engage a lot with the stakeholders who understand what kind of work NFDC should be doing, both within India and outside. And I have no hesitation in taking their feedback and changing. I can talk about the developmental aspect of NFDC with a greater degree of passion.

There are institutions like this in every country and there is a reason why they are there, and they have existed for so many years. No one can deny the role that NFDC has played. But you have to tweak a film developmental body’s outlook and functioning according to the needs of the time. In the 80s for instance, we set up a subtitling plant and bought equipment because there was a dearth of cameras. Today there are enough players in the private domain, so there is no need for NFDC to pursue that. NFDC should be constantly reviewing its strategies according to the needs of the time.

What’s been your biggest achievement in NFDC?

It’s a journey. At no point in time in the growth of an institution can you really sit back and say: Oh, I achieved XYZ. For me, everything is a work in progress. Even if I look at Film bazaar which has grown substantially or turning around NFDC at a commercial level, making it a profitable company which it was not three years ago; I don’t look at it as an achievement because it’s always a work in progress. Every institution is dynamic; at no point can you say: Okay this is it. I have done it.


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