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Ah, Light Of Day

FTII grads and their virgin films. They're now on TV.

Ah, Light Of Day
Ah, Light Of Day
outlookindia.com
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Until September 3 this year, the only people who got to see the unfettered films of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) pass-outs were the examiners. The Lens Sight Festival in Mumbai changed all that. Now the sponsors, channel Star One, are showcasing the films of the young graduates on the small screen too.

The decision by the dyed-in-the-commercial-mode channel surprised many. Conventional wisdom had it that there was no money in the venture. Viewership was doubtful. In a market where satellite broadcasters like Sony and Star lapped up blockbusters for Rs 3-5 crore in the race for TRP ratings, showcasing 'zara hatke' cinema seemed suicidal at first sight.

The one-year-old Star One was also not exactly known for its serious content. With a youth focus, the channel's USP till now had been clever cookery shows hosted by young models and campus capers. "The response to the FTII films hasn't been chartbusting, but it's definitely encouraging," says Deepak Saigal, programming head, Star One. Saigal says the Sunday afternoon slot on Star's family of channels had been a traditional reserve of blockbusters. "It's a highly watched slot...and that's why we chose to project the cinema of young filmmakers there," says Saigal, who is an FTII graduate himself.

That the channel is undergoing a subtle makeover is evident from the remarks of Ravi Menon, programme chief at Star. "The move shows our commitment to quality programming. It also provides an outlet for talented filmmakers to reach a mass audience," he says. The channel has a package of 16 films slotted for Sunday afternoons.

For FTII director Tripurari Saran, who is in the process of inking an MoU with Doordarshan (DD) to show institute films, the Star decision is an encouraging sign. "DD had earlier insisted on a three-year exclusive arrangement. We are not in favour of exclusivity...after DD agreed to withdraw the clause, a more permanent agreement to show the films will be inked in the next 10 days," says Saran.

The FTII is also readying for the commercial release of 100-odd DVDs of older diploma students like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ketan Mehta, Om Puri, Shatrughan Sinha etc, part of the package to be made available on commercial terms.

"I think it's good that thesis films of graduates get as many outlets as possible, so their talent is there for everyone to see. Besides, this is the only time they'll be free to make films as they want them to be. After passing out, they may discover there are limits to creativity," says filmmaker Shyam Benegal, a festival guest. Currently, the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) and NDTV Profit are the only channels for filmmakers to showcase offbeat films. The PSBT, of course, operates on a different agenda, confined to exhibiting films of concern to civil society.

That the market is opening up for the young filmmakers is a positive sign. As Jasmine Kaur, whose Saanjh was shown recently, says, "Such a move would have been inconceivable 10 years ago". Incidentally, Kaur's 22-minute passing-out project took five months to complete.

It's the same with Dwija, the real life story of a child widow who struggled against odds to become a doctor in pre-independent India. After it was screened, scriptwriter Milind Damle says some directors have been making polite enquiries. Damle, who initially wanted to shoot part of the film in black and white but settled for colour as the institute had colour stock, says viewers called in wanting to know more about the fiercely independent doctor. "The story stops when child widow Muthu Aathley (the protagonist) is 15, so viewers were piqued," says Damle. He's now contemplating a sequel. "It's nice that an all-out entertainment channel has offered its platform to us."

As Kaur puts it, "The market seems to be opening up to FTII just as the institute is opening up to the market." Indeed. The FTII has already hired the services of Rudra Entertainment Ltd to market the DVDs of films produced by its graduates in the future. It's a new beginning all around.

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