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IFFI 2016: Prakash Jha on how he made the acclaimed Damul in Rs10 lakh

The filmmaker recollects how he took a loan from NFDC to make one his earliest and most acclaimed films and managed to pay it back.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Suparna Thombare

Prakash Jha made his first film Hip Hip Hurray (which is also one of India’s early sports films) in 1984, but his Damul, which released the very next year, could have very well been his directorial debut. The bold subject of caste politics and bonded labour in Bihar made it difficult for Jha to find the funds though. While there were no corporates or crowd-funding avenues at the time, National Film Federation of India (NFDC) was a saviour for many talented directors.

During a conversation at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, Jha recollected how he managed to make one of the most acclaimed films of his career, Damul.

Jha says that thanks to NFDC, many filmmakers like hlm found funding for smaller, socially relevant films. “It was the early ‘80s when NFDC was hugely functional. All of us together — Kundan (Shah), Ketan (Mehta), Vinod (Vidhu Vinod Chopra), me and whole of filmmakers from Bengal like Buddhadeb (Dasgupta), and Adoor (Gopalkrishnan) from Kerala made films with them. I did two films with NFDC — Damul and Parineeti — both remain my favourite films. It was only after the opening of the market economy when NFDC almost shut down, filmmakers were thrown into the open market to fend for themselves. They were forced to import films from Hong Kong and the Kung Fu films and stuff to distribute and earn money to pay salary to their staff. Till today it's not got back to its original place of funding films. It’s a pity because now good avenues have opened up for the exhibition,” says Jha.

The director made the Annu Kapoor, Sreela Mazumdar, and Deepti Naval-starrer in a mere Rs10 lakh, and he has an interesting story as to how he recovered the money. 

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“So I went to NFDC with the script of Damul and it got approved. I was given a loan of Rs8 lakh. I completed the film in Rs10 lakh and shot it over 24 days. We did a lot of production and planning and didn’t go over budget. It was difficult to return the money because no distributors would take it and release it in cinemas. It was only when it won the National Award for Best Film that I could twist the arm of the information and broadcast ministry and tell them to find an avenue to show my film.” 

Damul was invited in the competition and participation sections at film festivals in Montreal, Chicago and Moscow, but it wasn’t easy to recover the investments as it could not get a mainstream release in theatres. Damul thus was also significant because Jha’s determination to release his film also contributed to creating a special slot for smaller films on Doordarshan.

“That’s how the whole premièring national award winning films on Sunday evening on Doordarshan started. And for one show of Damul, I charged them Rs8 lakh and the whole loan was paid back. It’s tougher to get satellite rights for such films now. I have just produced a film called Lipstick Under My Burkha, which is doing film festival circuit and winning awards. But I know how difficult it is going to be to get a certificate and release the film in theatres,” says Jha.