'DD and private networks have breached an audience's right to information'
Sushil Surendranath, general secretary of the Indian Documentary Producers Association, started his career in advertising 30 years ago and has been making documentaries for the last 18 years.
Surendranath spoke to Basharat Peer about the sidelining of documentary and short films by Doordarshan and private television networks.
What role do you see documentary and short films playing in India?
Due to the low literacy rate in India, documentary and short films have an educative and informative role to play. They touch varied aspects of our lives and address numerous critical issues.
Is the information that documentary and short film-makers want to convey, reaching the audience it is intended for?
This is where the problem lies. Despite film-makers coming up with brilliant documentary films, they are being denied the opportunity to reach the audience. This defeats the very purpose of making such films.
How is the opportunity being denied?
Due to the importance given to advertisement revenue-generating entertainment programmes, documentaries are ignored by Doordarshan and private television networks.
We had a weekly half-hour slot for televising documentaries on Doordarshan but instead of further encouraging us, that time slot was taken away to accommodate a commercially viable programme.
How do you feel about all this?
I see it as negligence of duty on the part of Doordarshan and private television networks; negligence in informing and educating that very audience which is the source of its revenue. I also view it as a breach of the audience's right to information.
Did you approach the concerned authorities for getting back the time slot for screening of the documentaries on Doordarshan?
We did approach them, but got the typical government response. We met Arun Jaitley when he was information and broadcasting minister, we approached the secretary, information and broadcasting, the CEO of Prasar Bharti, and many more officials. However, so far nothing has happened. And I fear none of these people will bother to address the issue.
The television networks are ignoring documentaries primarily because they believe there is no market for them. What do you say to that?
It is not that people do not want to watch documentaries. Actually, the market has not been created for documentaries. Let Doordarshan and each of the private networks give us a half-hour slot every week and we will prove that people do want to watch short and documentary films.
Look at Discovery and National Geographic -- they are doing so well. I wish a law could be enacted to this effect.
The Geetakrishnan report recommended the closure of Films Division.
That would be a disaster. Films Division is the only ray of hope for documentary film-makers. Great documentaries have been produced with its help and funding. If the Films Division is closed down, we have no means of existing.