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The Joker Coming October.

Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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IFFI Goa 2015, Festival Diary, X: NFDC and Incredible India’s Film Bazaar

Film%20Bazaar%2C%20Poster.jpg

IFFI Goa 2015, Festival Diary, X

NFDC and Incredible India’s Film Bazaar

This year, the Bazaar saw participation of more than 1,100 delegates, from over 38 countries. Approximately 157 new South Asian films were shown in the viewing room, and 37 participants from 5 different countries were in the producers' lab. 19 projects were selected in the co-production market and 18 scripts in the three screenwriters' labs. Encouraging figures.

A newspaper report, on 26 November 2015 read (excerpts), “After four days of intellectually stimulating knowledge sessions, interactions with both amateur and established film-makers, and value-adding film exchange between the South Asian film industry and the global film fraternity, NFDC's Film Bazaar ended on Tuesday.

At the closing ceremony, managing director of NFDC India, Ms. Nina Lath Gupta, said, "For me, every film that does well is my baby, I take immense pride. Each award, every bit of critical acclaim earned by you all over the world is my award." (She said nothing about films that do not do well. It would be highly unusual if she did.

Anything wrong with that eulogising such an event? Not at all. Except that it reads like another press release-based coverage in a rival daily, and ...And what? Two more things. First, let us read another report, in the same newspaper, this time from October 2014: “The five-day Film Bazaar, held parallel to the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) each year to facilitate the business aspect of film-making, will be taken over by the Goa government body, Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), from the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) of the Union government, from 2015.

ESG chairperson Damodar Naik said on Wednesday that the memorandum of understanding (MoU) being signed between the Goa government and the Union Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry this year, vests more powers in the festival related decision-making with Goa. “We will have a larger say in the festival organisation and it will be more visible from the 2015 edition of IFFI, where ESG will host the film bazaar," Naik said.

“We will also look at tapping the film industry to create more employment through the film bazaar. We will also focus on providing more visibility to Goa in different kinds of films, to promote it further as a tourist destination," Naik said.

Whatever happened to that MoU? Nothing more was heard about it. Not that ESG is likely to do a better job of organising the Bazaar. This year too, NFDC continued to team up with the tourism marketing initiative of the Union Government, called Incredible India. That arrangement is questionable. Goa was, is and is likely to remain, a prime tourist destination for Indians and foreigners alike. There might be occasional dips in volume, year on year, attributable to a host of factors, but Rajasthan, Varanasi and Goa have always been tourist favourites. So what is Incredible India doing at the Marriott hotel in Goa every year? Putting-up various state tourism stalls and hosting cocktails every evening. Besides, they got their logo printed on the festival’s free carry-bag. Ground reality was hardly motivating: in the three years that I checked out, there were not more than three persons visiting the ten-odd stalls. Many stalls did not even have any staff manning them.

 

During previous editions, I happened to meet old friend and hardcore film aficionado, Parvez Dewan, at the Bazaar. Dewan took charge as the chairman and managing director of India Tourism Development Corporation in 2006. The company recorded its three highest-ever profits under him, and declared the only three dividends that it has, since 1997. He was the Tourism Secretary of the Government of India during 2012-14. In 2014, Dewan took voluntary retirement. Parvez, looking glum and edgy, confided in me that Incredible India was not getting the expected mileage out of the event, and he was wondering whether it was worth associating with the Film Bazaar any more. I could not agree more. I have yet to see merit in any claim that the Film Bazaar is the right platform to promote tourism in states like Chhattisgarh. So, what merit does Incredible India see in continuing to bear the sponsorship expenses? Merit or no merit, it is still there. In 2015, they have tried out adding a Film Tourism Symposium and a pre-Bazaar film Tourism Workshop. Hope these efforts bear fruit.

Now to the second contentious aspect of the eulogising press coverage of the Bazaar. Almost over-the-top coverage itself raises doubts about journalistic integrity and unbiased reporting. But when you know for a fact that the coverage comes from journalists who have been flown to and fro the event from great distances, and provided four/five-star stay and hospitality, it raises even more serious concerns. Which publication/journalist will be part of such a junket, and still have the gall (or stupidity) to criticise his/her hosts or any aspect of the host’s event? During the reign of the current MD of NFDC, public relations agencies, like Loudspeaker Media, have been retained to garner 100% positive press stories. Having 20 pliable media-persons on your side also means ignoring and alienating the 200-odd media-persons who are present in Goa to cover IFFI, some of who might also want to drop in at the Bazaar, which is not surprising, since it is definitely an IFFI spin-off, conducted with the active support of IFFI.

The hostilities began years ago by denying the shoulder bag to journalists who were not on the NFDC list. The bag made it convenient to carry the thick Bazaar guides, and other paraphernalia. It was given to the select few, though. Others were told that stocks had run out and would be replenished later, a canard that was repeated when they happened to visit the next day, and the next. Later, the Bazaar media desk thought it best to tell visiting journalists that the bags were either given first come first served, or were not meant for them. This discrimination spilled over to lunch, which is free to registered delegates and all invitees, including chosen journalists. Others were told that they were not entitled to lunch coupons. Going one-step further, such journalists were denied entry to the daily cocktails too. And, finally, taking no chances, many were simply told that they were not welcome to the Bazaar.

A Bazaar registration allows access to IFFI; an IFFI registration does not allow access to the Bazaar. IFFI gives accreditation to any journalist who fulfils minimum criteria, free, but does not fly anyone at its expense. The Bazaar PR agency sends repeated emails to journalists to “register”, only to clarify when they respond that the mail was for them to publish, not respond to, sent as publicity/press release, to help register greater number of revenue generating participants, for the various sections of the Bazaar, and not register the journalists themselves.

Besides various sponsorships and partnerships, the Bazaar earns through a multitude of fees: Rs. 5,000 (US$75) for submitting a project for co-production, Rs. 14,000 (around US$212) for mere participation (lunch and cocktails included), screenings fees @ Rs. 10,000/film, hiring out stalls @ US$1035-1380/each. Besides, NFDC has around 100 event partners. So, clearly, it is not treating the Bazaar as a socialistic, philanthropic directive of the Indian constitution, and, in all probability, is, if not making too much, at least recovering all its investment substantially. Why then does it have to stinge so much, and get unscrupulous?

Imagine this: You are a film-critic and are visiting the Bazaar. A young, hopeful film-maker comes up to you, and asks you to attend his screening. It is 12 noon. The show will begin in another 15 minutes, at 12.15. It will end around 2.15-2.30. After the show, everybody else around you will rush to the buffet round the corner, in the Marriott restaurant, except you. You will have to go out of the hotel and find an affordable eatery, some 2 km away, at 3 pm. Moreover, the logic behind heavy screening and weeding out of journalists who have come on their own, and not cost the NFDC one paisa, is perverse.

Many of them will write, and do write, about the Bazaar, some might not. That is what PR is all about. Even if the non VIP scribes partake of the food and beverages, the stuff is sponsored and heavily subsidised too. The NFDC brief, to Ms. Mauli Singh, obviously, is, “Here is the money, these are the names. Get us favourable coverage in these publications, and keep all others at bay.” The arrangement must be working well for both NFDC and Ms. Singh, because, after 2014, she was retained in 2015 too.

Having seen senior journalists being maltreated/denied entry at IFFI 2012-13, I told her in 2014 that she should simply ask for pre-registrations, and facilitate entry at the venue, without any bitterness. She kept stalling. When I visited the Bazaar in 2014, all that has been chronicled above was evident in close-up. Very disappointed, I went away, back to the main Festival. Weeks later, later, in Mumbai, where we both live, I asked her why did she/her team not allow me (and others like me) normal access to the Bazaar? I am a film-critic since 1970 and a lecturer in PR since 2005. She replied that she had her own list of journalists who were to be flown to Goa and put up at her expense, and my name did not figure in it. It was only then that I discovered the existence of such a favoured list. Since I was not on the list, I might not have been welcomed to the Bazaar, she pointed out. On second thought, seeing that I was appalled, she apologised, “Think of me as your daughter, and forgive me for my mistake. I will make sure that you are put on that list in 2015,” she assured.

Three weeks ago, history repeated itself. I did not ask her to take me on her junket, while it was clear that she never had any intention of getting me on it. But I have been attending IFFI on my own since 1976, on my own, and have even flown from Singapore on a few occasions at my own cost, being based there during 1996-2004. So, I was there on the 18th evening. On the 19th of November, a day before the inauguration of both IFFI and the Bazaar, I bumped into a student of mine, now in her mid-20s and a trainee at a Mumbai-based newspaper. She said she had come to Goa on a junket organised by Ms. Mauli Singh, to cover the Film Bazaar.

When I went there the next day, I was, miraculously, registered at the media desk, and, after some hesitation, given a bag too. I asked for Mauli, and found her in the Media Room. She looked at me and said, “Why are you giving me such harsh looks? Somebody please attend to him and let him have what he wants.” I asked for some water. It took 15 minutes to arrive, because, I was told by the NFDC official seated next to where I was standing, that each small bottle of water had to be sanctioned first. No sooner had the water flowed down my throat, I walked along the Bazaar area, towards the state tourism stalls. They were completely deserted, as usual. It was now getting to be 1 pm, and soon I would need to have my lunch, after which I would catch a 2.30 film screening. I had already kept packed food in my hotel room, and that is where I headed, to have a bite before catching a screening. Good luck, Film Bazaar 2015.

That same day, this item appeared in another leading daily, contributed by a Pune scribe. Excerpts:

FTII student made to leave Goa film fest

I&B officials say the intern could have been a ‘threat’ to the 10-day international film festival.

A student of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), who was interning at Film Bazaar, an ancillary event organised by National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) during International Film Festival of India (IFFI), was asked to leave, by Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry officials, saying he “could be a threat” to the festival.

FTII students, who had staged a four-and-a-half-month-long strike this year to protest what they call as “unjust appointments” on the institute’s society, had threatened to protest at the venue during the festival, to press the I&B Ministry to accede to their demands.

V. Raghavender, a second-year film editing student at FTII, said he was selected as an intern at the Film Bazaar, along with other students from Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata (SRFTI). He reached Goa on Thursday morning, and started to work. However, around late afternoon, officials asked him to leave, saying he could be a “threat” to the film festival.

“A senior had recommended me for the internship. The Film Bazaar organisers invited me to Goa as an intern, but said I would not get paid for it. I took up the offer for the experience. I reached Goa on Thursday morning,” said Raghvender, who hails from Hyderabad. According to him, higher officials from the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC), Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) and I&B Ministry were meeting everyone at the venue.

“When NFDC Director General Nina Lath Gupta came for a round and I was introduced as an FTII student, she asked me if I was still studying in the institute. I said yes. An hour later, my team in-charge came to me and requested me to leave. She said higher officials felt I could be a threat and disturb the festival,” said Raghavender, adding that SRFTI students were allowed to continue with their internship.

Asked why the intern was asked to leave, Gupta said, “It’s not unusual for us to let off interns if we don’t need them.”

P. S. With the NFDC having a huge section on co-productions, why did IFFI and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) organise a joint, rival session on co-production, at a venue that was far nearer the IFFI complex, the Hotel Taj Vivanta, than the Bazaar venue? We were welcomed there with open arms, with beverages and lunch on the house. The crowd was small, the ambience good and no journalist had been flown from anywhere. Appreciated, Ms. Leena Jaisani (FICCI). Not appreciated, Ms. Nina Lath Gupta and Ms. Mauli Singh.

 

 

 

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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