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Bobbeeta Sharma
Date of Publish: 2015-07-05



The Assam State Film Finance & Development Corporation (ASFFDC) needed to do something special to be back on track after 10 years of sloth. So it produced eminent director Jahnu Barua’s film Baandhon in 2010.

The film was adjudged the Best Regional Film at the National Awards and was selected to be the opening film of the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India in Goa in 2011. It also became the first Assamese film to be released outside Assam – in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore – and appreciated by audiences there.

Baandhon helped renew the ties between filmmakers and ASFFDC, whose principal activities today include production of Assamese films on its own and through the public-private partnership (PPP) mode.

A hand-holding scheme of the Assam Government, the PPP mode entails 60% funding of a film’s total budget by ASFFDC and 40% by the private producer. The ASFFDC has till date produced four films on PPP mode – Jadumoni Dutta’s Paani, Prabin Hazarika’s Shringkhal, Rajni Basumatary’s Raag and Mridul Gupta’s TRP. These films have been released in cine theatres.

Assamese films were a popular source of entertainment for decades until their popularity declined gradually in the 1980s. This was because television and video films changed the habit of cine-goers, who now had entertainment beamed into their living rooms.

The change impacted ASFFDC too.

For 30 years since 1974, ASFFDC was operating from a one-room office within the premises of Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio, Kahilipara. The rejuvenation process yielded Jonakee, a multipurpose cultural complex envisaged as a film hub encompassing a film museum, film archive, film souvenir shop, a mini cinema hall for festival purposes, a film café, film library and documentation centre. The film archive, inaugurated in February 2011, is the first in the Northeast and has a modern facility for preservation of films. The archive has more than 70 feature, documentary, and digital films.

A film museum, first of its kind in India, was established in December 2013. It has on display film posters, photographs, publicity material and film clippings starting from Joymoti (1935) to films till 2010 to mark 75 years of Assamese cinema. Open to public during office hours, the museum also has old film equipments like the Steinbeck editing machine donated by Jahnu Barua, 16mm , 35mm and 70mm film projectors, digital cameras, etc. Besides, it screens a 13-minute film on the history of Assamese cinema. A souvenir shop offering film-related material and artefacts is within the premises too. A mini cinema hall, under construction, is expected to be completed in 2016.

Apart from financing and producing films, ASFFDC has been entrusted with the disbursement of an Artiste Welfare Fund. As of now, ASFFDC has granted aid to some 30 persons from a corpus fund created for performing artistes from different fields who are in distress due to ill-health, accident, etc.

The ASFFDC has also been organising film festivals and workshops all over India and in Assam. These include Assamese film festivals in Delhi (2006) and Goa (2010) in association with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Festival of Films from Assam with Special Focus on Bodo Cinema in Kolkata (2007), international documentary film festivals in association with Films Division Mumbai, and festival of Panorama films with Directorate of Film Festivals, Delhi. The Corporation has also collaborated with Children Film Society of India for children film festivals across Assam besides participating at the International Film Festival in Dhaka.

The Corporation’s mission is not confined to the development of Assamese cinema and its promotion in the State and beyond. It also encourages the growth of a film-literate society that appreciates both entertaining and intellectually stimulating films

The ASFFDC’s rejuvenation drive has coincided with the multiplex culture that has brought the Indian viewers back to the cinema houses. Multiplexes came to India in the late 1990s, but took a while to reach Assam. Many cinema halls have switched to digital screening of films, helping them cut the cost of investing in film prints.

Of 106 cinema halls in Assam, 43* have closed down while 54** have digital screening facilities. The rest, in Army and Air Force bases with restricted access, have digital screening facility but invariably screen Hindi films.

The digital revolution has enabled people across the state watch the ‘first day first show’ at the same time. The relative ease and economy of production too has encouraged filmmakers to churn out more qualitative digital films. The statistics show.

According to Central Board of Film Certification records, 11 Assamese films were produced in the traditional celluloid format in 2012. Only two digital films were produced that year. The scenario changed drastically in 2013 with 11 digital films and four in the celluloid format. Production of video films also decreased, pointing to producers switching over to digital format for theatrical release. This augurs well for the Assamese film industry.

But Assamese film produces do face problems. The Assam Government has taken some initiatives to overcome these. For instance, the producer of an Assamese film was earlier entitled to 100% refund of entertainment tax after announcing his or her second film. The policy, simplified, now enables the producer to get back 80% of the entertainment tax even without a second project while the remaining 20% goes to ASFFDC for giving as loan to producers of Assamese films.

The Government has also introduced the Mini Cinema Hall Policy to cater primarily to the rural and semi-urban areas where Assamese films are more popular. This policy entails subsidy for young entrepreneurs to invest in mini halls as business ventures. Similarly, the Multiplex Policy has been designed for urban areas allowing hall owners to increase service charges toward upgrading their halls with air-conditioning, digital surround sound, push-back chairs, etc.

In essence, the Assamese film industry has been given a new lease of life for “camera roll action”.

(Source: *Eastern India Motion Pictures Association; **United Film Organisation Movies India Ltd, December 2012)

(Bobbeeta Sharma is an author, actor, director, television producer and the Chairperson, Assam State Film Finance & Development Corporation)



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