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Plans open for Films Division

Watch movies and documentaries by some of the country's leading filmmakers online

Bijoy AK | August 20, 2003 11:41 IST

For Indian moviegoers, Films Division evokes memories of grainy black-and-white newsreels and documentaries, shown in darkened auditoriums ahead of the main movie.

The organisation that has documented and archived over 50 years of independent India's history on celluloid now wants to take its collection to a wider audience.

Last month, it put 700 of its 8000 films on its Web site, These include documentaries by some of the country's leading filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Gulzar, Girish Karnad and Prakash Jha.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff Net Guide, Films Division's Director of Administration Sanjaya Pattanayak said NRIs and foreigners are the main targets of FD's online archive.

To truly enjoy the documentaries and films put online, users would need a broadband connection. Since most Indians are on slow connections, they might not be able to get the best out of the site, Pattanayak feels. Of course, Films Division is doing its best to cut download times. Pattanayak claims that the homepage now downloads in just three minutes, down from eight when they launched.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has spent around Rs 8 lakh on the project so far. It would take an equal amount to digitise the rest of the films. Till now, 80 GB worth of archives have been uploaded. All the films are in mpeg format, and users would need Windows Media Player or Real Player to view them.

The response so far has been positive. "It is very encouraging, especially from people abroad.'' says Pattanayak.  ''We have been getting lot of mails from people who love Indian films and culture."

In the one month since the site went live, most of its visitors came from the US, followed by India, Canada and the UK. After the revamp, the site has seen an almost 50 per cent increase in page views.

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According to Pattanayak, the new strategy aims to maximise the avenues of exhibition, win international exposure and invite queries from people who would want to use exclusive film clips available in Films Division's archives. FD plans to charge for its content some time in the future.

Pattanayak explained that the whole effort was meant to tap the trade potential of these films. "It is high time we changed our strategies. There is no good keeping these films shut in the shelves and waiting for customers or viewers to approach us. Our future plans depend on the kind of public reception."

Mumbai-based filmmaker Anup Kurian believes the success of FD's venture depends on the quality of the service. "With efficient broadband services you can get subscribers irrespective of whether it is paid or not, especially with the wealth of content Films Division has."  Kurian points out the success stories of BBC and other NGOs abroad who have gone ahead with such experiments.

Dhruvesh Zaveri of Mumbai's Astral Dreams Design Studio feels that FD should also try selling DVD / VCD version of its documentaries.  Zaveri, who is involved in the production of short films and documentaries, lauds FD's efforts.  "Getting to see quality films and documentaries on the Web would help aspiring youngsters learn by watching great masters' works," he says.

Viral shah, an MBA student from US, wouldn't mind paying if he gets to watch some good documentaries:  "But only if they would make it easier by providing online payments option through credit card and prompt service."

Mumbai-based Amjad K Maruf is an accountant and aspiring scriptwriter. He loves to watch works by well-known directors and says he would pay for the service if it is affordable.  According to Maruf, organisations like Films Division should utilise the Web to nurture budding talent too.  "Good critics and filmmakers should be made members so that newcomers can take guidance from them."

Pune-based Prayas Abhinav, who is into promotion and marketing of independent film productions, believes that FD's present efforts have got potential.  "It would make sense to pay for viewing some archived movies which are rare and not easily available."

For now, the site is free. And on its pages is a treat of rare films and documentaries for the avid cine lover.

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