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.