In framing a film policy for the UT

The edition of Greater Kashmir dated 13 April, and other regional newspapers, carried a press note,  informing the LG UT  will “soon” unveil a film policy for the Union Territory in Kashmir.  I would like to submit that such an announcement is fraught with failure. The UT Secretariat has in no way  indicated that while framing a film policy it had invited opinions  from informed circles or perhaps even taken the trouble to find out  where else in the country have the States and UTs created their film policies and  how the exercise was carried out. Pulling a rabbit from the hat “soon” is not the way things are done if the idea is to see some permanency attached to  the scheme.

In framing any  regional film policy, one needs to trace  the history of how cinema has been handled  by the various state departments and the private sector. The story for JK&L is the sorriest tale told.

Cinema was a taboo in Kashmir until 1936 and when the first three cinema halls were  made by British interests, there was  firm opposition to the business by the conservative elements in the Valley. That  cinema business  remained unsuccessful, should be known.  Finding work for the unemployed youth to work as spot boys is not a means of implementing the policy.

J&K government suffered from a problem of having a Hindu and a Muslim culture to work in.  For instance, since 1949, no film  which  had Maharaja Shivaji as its main character  was released commercially; even the Chief Minister of the time ordered its ban. The objections came from the conservative groups in the Valley. Hindu audiences would take a local bus service to drive out to Pathankot or Amritsar to see their film of interest. An unofficial board of censor has ensured what film passed by the National Board of Film certification should  be screened commercially in the region. A film policy must state its views in print properly.

An important digression here, is a must. In 2020 the State  had announced a State Film Policy during  a national conference held in the State and presented a detailed paper listing many issues for consideration. This paper in essence concentrated in developing the economic interest of film makers of the Hindi film industry in Mumbai. It also spoke for  creating a State Film development Corporation as a stand alone department for Kashmir. Then there was a stony silence. Some of the issues which should have been initiated remained in files.The latest press note make no mention if a new state policy is on the anvil or the details of the one announced in 2020  are being made known.

The State Film Policy  should have a policy for the promotion of cinema in the region as a means of adult education. JK&L  have never given to any such thought. UGC some decades ago,  had a scheme  to promote the opening of film clubs in University campus and in private units.  An enterprising income tax officer, R D  Bhanot  had started a film society in Jammu called Trikuta Film Society, in the early 1980s. This unit ran until he was in the State, but closed down  when he was shifted out and no one wanted to pick up the job thereafter. The reason was that there was no film culture for appreciation of films as part of film education in the State. How  does now a new film policy propose to  bring a positive  change in this area, needs to be spelt. The old document of 2020 talked of  developing an audience education but kept the subject vague for action.

The State Institute of Mass Communication in Srinagar does not have a section dealing with studies in film culture. It still has  the topic for theatre for study. An effort to start film lectures and film screening failed recently because  some conservative students opposed the idea of such studies being introduced  in this center; yet students from the same University are moving to Mumbai and Delhi (NOIDA) to learn the same skills that could be taught in Srinagar at no cost.  How will  a State film policy  look into this prospect.

There is no library in the whole of the JK&L where students of Mass Communication can access film literature for study, or see  short and feature films which film studies recommend. No money was contemplated to start such a library despite mention for this in scattered paragraphs. The new State film policy should  speak positively for  introducing this learning opportunities and talk  of earmarking funds now.

To begin with I submit, that the LG should not announce any new film policy in haste. Two things must precede the announcement.

The Administration should create the promised State Film Development Corporation under a gazette notification already  contemplated in the old document. The models of UP and Haryana  may be studied for guidance.

The State Dept of Information should request the daily newspapers to include at least half a page  in their holiday magazine to stories of films under production in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai. The department in arrangement with the National Film Archives Pune should have a weekly screening of old films accompanied with a speaker to introduce the film to the audience. Some of the  cultural centers in Delhi like those of British Council, MMB, and  Italy have huge collections of famous films  presently untouched, and they can be shown.

The creation of film clubs in  colleges with  videoscope units available in science classes, can be opened officially and  CDs of films can be available for screening  when they come into existence.

Again  the State Department of Information can, in collaboration with the Directorate of Film Festival, Delhi, hold  annual three weeks National Film Festival in Baramulla, Srinagar, Anantnag, Jammu, Leh and Poonch to screen past winning Indian films  to the local audiences who may be English knowing students and retired persons. Young entrepreneurs keen to start  cinema business should be extended  sweet loans to construct small cinema halls using commercial videoscope machines to screen films and generate   local audiences.

The  scope to promote good cinema is big, but it is necessary to start not by enthusiasm alone, but by funds and  past experiences of  others who have succeeded  elsewhere. If the LG is coming out with the details  on the old film policy of 2020, let him do so in sections and see how  the schemes take shape. The old document is too ambitious in its concept, though well thought in parts.

The writer is  a national award winning veteran film critic.