Auditing government policy through films

Pankaj K P Shreyaskar
Historically, public policies in this country have been appraised by academics, civil society organisations, columnists or policy think tanks. Public policy discourse is notably complex, and further has important distinctive features, including the need to incorporate value inputs, considerations of legitimacy, and assessments of the constraints on public action.
There is a temptation in discourse analysis to plunge deep into philosophy and linguistic and literary theory. However, many other forms of policy appraisals are also practiced by several stakeholders’.
In recent years, public policy appraisals through feature films are gaining considerable importance among young film makers. Even though visual filming was used even earlier in higher education and non-formal processes of learning and change, the policy appraisal through feature filming is new.
The classics of Indian cinema such as Do Aankhe Barah Haath, Pather Panchali, Mother India, Do Beegha Zameen and Manthan reflected on socio-economic-religious-political aspects of a multi-cultural and multi-layered Indian society but, they did not deal directly with state policies.
The film-based learning strategy, Visual Problem Appraisal (VPA), is used to enhance the analysis of complex issues and facilitate a plan of action. A VPA set consists of a series of filmed narratives complemented with documentaries. These films provide particular perspectives on the contextual reality of the stakeholders. Observing and listening to the filmed stories gives audiences a chance to explore the complex and conflictive arena of the issues at stake. They realise that stakeholder consultation is not about finding out one final truth, but about compiling new stories that combine and respect the personal versions and diverse framings of reality.
Take, for example, Gutrun Gutargun (Hindi) by Prateek Sharma, Mithila Makhan by Nitin Neera Chandra andPratyavartan by Nimu Bhaumik and Rajiv Kumar.
Gutrun Gutargun is a visual commentary on the gender imbalances prevalent particularly in Bihar.
The movie chooses the issue of basic sanitation in villages and preference for open defecation, a cultural issue in our society to impress upon the gender inequalities through the imageries of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, an ambitious project of the Government of India.
Similarly, the script of the Mithila Makhan is woven around the central theme of yet another pivotal scheme of the Central Government, Start-Up India, Stand up India. The film’s protagonist returns to his ancestral home from Toronto after 23 years to find that the 2008 Kosi flood had ravaged his village. To live the dream of his grandfather he decides to re-start the business ofmakhan distribution.
The film depicts how the start-up ventures struggles to establish the business and that the difficulties are not only in respect of the financial assistance, technological support but also in ease of doing business due to cartelisation of traditional monopolists.
The third film is said to be first ever effort of its kind, a full-length feature film, running over two hours and produced by Jharkhand Police. A brainchild of former Jharkhand Director General of Police Rajiv Kumar, who retired recently, the film is aimed at making the youths impressed by Maoist ideology realise the futility of taking up arms against the state by exposing the deterioration of moral values within the Left-Wing Extremist (LWE).
Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are LWE affected, though in varying degrees. The Union Government has been implementing several schemes for LWE affected areas including a Civic Action Programme.
The project appraisals through filming by independent cinematographers thus give a balanced approach to various Government schemes in India. But, the films mentioned here may not have enough target audiences to ensure dissemination of messages.
Producers face difficulties in releasing such movies. Industry bodies such as CII, ASSOCHAM, FICCI and similar agencies may like to screen such kind of project-appraised feature films and may like to invest in film releases through their conglomerates so that the democratic governance of the region is propagated to the larger masses to answer the question whether governance matters in India.

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