Business Today

The Turnaround Artist

After its glory days in the 1970s and early 1980s, National Film Development Corporation became nearly defunct. Nina Lath Gupta gave it a new lease of life
Arunima Mishra | Print Edition: Sep 15, 2013
Nina Lath Gupta, Managing Director, NFDC
Nina Lath Gupta, Managing Director, NFDC Photo: Nishikant Gamre

National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) has come full circle. In the 1970s and early 1980s, it was the driving force behind what is often called India's art house or parallel cinema. The state-run agency backed directors such as Mira Nair, Ketan Mehta and Kundan Shah to make timeless classics such as Salaam Bombay, Mirch Masala and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. But it lost its way in the following decade. Bureaucratic apathy plunged the company tasked with promoting Indian cinema into the red and made it almost defunct.

The situation, however, has changed again in the past five-six years. NFDC is again producing movies which win acclaim the world over. It is also back in the green. And the person leading the turnaround is Managing Director Nina Lath Gupta.

How did she revive NFDC? Gupta, 48, took over as MD in 2006 after quitting the Indian Revenue Service. She knew she had to make some tough decisions to put the company back on its feet. She cut the number of staff by half to about 100. She closed three offices - in Guwahati, Secunderabad and Bangalore - in 2007. After the restructuring, she hired investment bank SBI Capital Markets to raise Rs 46 crore in 2010.

I love my work... each task is different, like each new film
Gradually, NFDC resumed its support to alternative cinema and little-known filmmakers. Through its Film Bazaar initiative, launched in 2007, it tied up with buyers and sellers of movie rights and promoted its movies at festivals. It signed co-production deals with filmmakers and production houses. In March 2012, NFDC launched its Cinemas of India distribution brand to release its old movies after picture and sound restoration. NFDC has so far released 70 movies under the brand and plans to launch a voice-on-demand platform online. It also set up NFDC Labs to impart training to writers and directors.

The steps have improved its finances. Revenue rose to Rs 251.24 crore in 2012/13 from Rs 17.31 crore in 2008/09. It posted gross profit of Rs 8.45 crore last fiscal year versus a loss of Rs 7.35 crore in 2008/09. "It's great to set milestones and achieve them," she says. "NFDC is not purely business. It's multi-dimensional."

In 2012/13, NFDC produced or co-produced seven feature films, including the Dibakar Banerjee-directed Shanghai. Another was Gurvinder Singh's debut film, Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse), which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and won three National Awards and the Golden Peacock Award at the International Film Festival of India 2012. Tasher Desh, a Bengali feature film directed by Qaushiq Mukherjee, Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus and Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox also received critical acclaim.

Singh says Gupta is particular about the movies she picks. She knows what's happening in world cinema. "She will back a film if it has content, and scope outside India. My film, with a limited release, did well overseas in many festivals," he says. "I don't know where I would've gone had NFDC not backed my movie." 

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