From a sick company it is now a successful ad maker that is changing the shape of film-making, but its revenues have been hit by the government's indecision
It is the stuff corporate fairy tales are made of. Nina Lath Gupta walked into (the then Rs 24 crore) National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) in 2006, two years before it was declared sick by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR). Gupta, a former Indian Revenue Service officer, was familiar with NFDC because of her years in the Union ministry of information & broadcasting. By 2010-11, she had brought it back from the brink, not by making blockbusters a la Disney or Yashraj Films but by becoming one of the biggest ad film makers in the country. The now Rs 126-crore NFDC produces over 110 ad films a year for almost every major government arm you can think of: from the Guardian of the Skies for Indian Air Force to Mitti for the National Population Register under the ministry of home affairs.
These ad films help fund something that no other body does in India: the development of Indian cinema. NFDC has been the facilitator, progenitor and at times co-producer of some good, unusual and downright brilliant cinema. The Ship of Theseus, Ms Lovely, Mumbaicha Raja, B.A. Pass, Tasher Desh and Gangoobai, are among the 30 to 40 films that NFDC facilitates every year. The Lunchbox, which it co-produced, and The Good Road, which it produced, were bitter rivals in the battle to be India's Oscar entry last year. Many - Qissa, for instance - have been awarded at international festivals.
The state-owned NFDC is more focused than ever on the developmental end of the value chain of the Rs 12,500-crore Indian film industry. It is the place where a script or film project is developed, co-production treaties are signed or where writers and directors find buyers for their films. In the process, it is creating a very 'European' kind of eco-system for new types of cinema, stories and narratives in different languages. Many of these - The Lunchbox or Shanghai, for instance - get marketed and distributed by mainstream studios, creating a public-private partnership that is working wonders at improving the quality of mainstream cinema in India.
NFDC was set up in 1975 and falls under the ministry of information & broadcasting. Till the mid-1990s, it did alright since it was the ad sales agent for Doordarshan which was a monopoly. It used the income from its ad sales business to fund the development of cinema. However, as private broadcasting took off and Doordarshan gave away some of its ad sales work to others, NFDC floundered and became sick. In 2008, BIFR and the ministry agreed that the way to make NFDC financially independent was to enable it to become a full-fledged advertising solutions supplier to departments, ministries and public sector units along with Department of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP).
The results were startling: annually almost 82 per cent of NFDC's revenues come from making ad films.(See Table) A bulk of that revenue is actually money passing through its books since it also buys the media for its government clients. But it spends almost all of its profits and more on Film Bazaar, Cinemas of India and many of its other initiatives that nurture the making and distribution of new and unusual films.
NFDC has a two-step developmental strategy. The first is the nurturing of scripts and projects. Film Bazaar, an event that focuses on co-production and distribution opportunities, was kicked off in 2007. It is held along with the International Film Festival of India in Goa every year and is a key global market for South Asian cinema. It seems like a junket but involves a huge amount of backend effort that the wonderfully resilient but financially precarious private film industry is unable to make.