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August 18, 1998


Clinic All Clear-Rahul Dravid

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Kerala Chief Minister E K Nayanar.
Yesterday -- Monday, August 17 -- marked the inauguration, by Chief Minister E K Nayanar, of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy.

Part of the ruling Left Democratic Front's cultural policy, the Academy is aimed at "preserving and propagating good cinema in Kerala", in the words of its chairman and award-winning director Shaji Karun.

Set up as an autonomous body under the aegis of the state government's cultural department, the academy will be governed by a pyramidal structure comprising a general council of 23 members, which will include leading lights from both the industry and government, topped by a nine-member executive council, with a three-member governing body at the apex.

From the industry side, besides leading directors like Karun, top stars of the calibre of Mammootty, Srinivasan, and Murali are also incorporated in the general council. And an interesting name in the executive council is Meera Sahib, Adoor Gopalakrishnan's assistant and a leading film activist in the state.

This last comprises chairman Karun, vice-chairman John Sankaramangalam (formerly of the Pune Film and Television Institute) and secretary B Ravindran, a career government servant on deputation from the state PR department.

"It is a multi-goal exercise," says Karun. "Among other things, the academy will co-ordinate and conduct international film festivals in the state. It will also be the determinator of state film awards, in future, the academy will put together the panel of judges and nominate the films for the awards."

Mammootty. Click for bigger pic!
Elaborating on this aspect, Ravindran says, "We had a recent meeting of the film-trade bodies, and in this, directors and producers from both the commercial and art streams, and what was decided was that we would not differentiate between art and commerce. In other words, it would be good cinema and bad cinema -- thus recognising that there is a commercial aspect to art films, as there is an artistic side to commercial films. And I must add that television is included as well -- this academy is for the visual media in its entirety."

With respect to the stated goal of spreading good cinema, Karun says it will be a multi-faceted exercise.

"For a start, there is the procuring and creating of a film archive, of the best of international and Indian films. These will then be sub-titled and shown widely, we have acquired 10 mobile vans to tour the state, right down to the panchayat level, showing these films.

"For starters, we will be using the mobile vans -- but the ultimate goal is to convert the community halls, which every panchayat has, into mini-theatres by giving them the required acoustic and other facilities," adds Ravindran. "As to the archives themselves, while we will be looking to get the best of films from round the world, we plan to focus more strongly on Afro-Asian and Latin-American films."

Why the discrimination, or weightage, to those regions?

"Because that is the area where the Pune archives are not strong," says the academy secretary. "Therefore, by focussing more strongly on those regions, we will be ensuring that we have a comprehensive archive, between Pune and Kerala."

The third prong of the academy's strategy is perhaps most crucial to the industry.

Sreenivasan. Click for bigger pic!
"We plan to use the academy as a vehicle to get national and international exposure for Malayalam films," says Karun. "The academy thus will serve to broaden our platform, highlight the work Malayalam directors are doing."

"The academy will also serve as a bridge between the various film bodies, and the state government," says Ravindran. "Right now, one of the problems is lack of coordination, too many people and bodies speaking in too many voices. We will serve as a funnel, channelling all ideas and suggestions, presenting them to the government, ensuring follow-up and implementation."

All of this entails a hefty financial budget, and for now the academy heads are taking it as it comes. "Our initial budget estimates an operating expenditure of Rs 15 million per year," says Ravindran. "This is of course over and above the Rs 60 million, initially, that we have budgeted for the acquisition of archival films.

"We will be getting the funding as grant in aid, from the state government, rather on the lines of the Sahitya Akademi."

Private sponsorship? The question draws a laugh from Ravindran. "You know Kerala, where do we have, here, the kind of industries that can lay out that kind of money on something like this?"

"Hopefully," adds Karun, "as our work progresses and gets more popular and broad-based, the project will develop enough steam to generate its own revenues."

For now, says Karun, the academy will not actively fund film projects. "However," adds Ravindran, "we will liase between the producers, directors and the government, to ensure that the best of facilities -- including those already incorporated into the state-run film city, are made available with a minimum of fuss, and red tape.

"As to whether the academy will actively involve itself in the financial phase of film-making, well, who knows? We are just making a start today, the future is what we can make of it."

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