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JU dilly-dally over Buddha funds offer

Jadavpur University (JU) appears bent on giving chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s very unusual largesse-bus a miss. Two months after Bhattacharjee — no mean film aficionado himself, and the force behind the city’s high-profile film festival these days — asked the cash-strapped film studies department to send in a proposal for more funds and promised “all help required”, the university’s draft budget has no sign of the JU authorities taking advantage of the chief minister’s largesse.

Rather, the proposed budget for the next academic year (2003-2004) will see — instead of a hike — a substantial slash in the amount the department will get to make films over the next 12 months.

Last year, students of the department — the solitary stand-alone film studies department in an Indian university (the other varsities club film studies with allied subjects) — got Rs 1.2 lakh for making the films that formed a part of their curriculum.

Officials said the students were grouped into only two teams because of the “severe” paucity of funds. “We would have preferred to divide them into more groups to give them an even more hands-on approach,” one of them admitted, while adding that making a film for less than Rs 60,000 was quite improbable.

“Making a film for Rs 60,000 is, of course, next to impossible but the students somehow manage to do that,” he explained.

But the films made from the Rs-60,000 budget were enough to impress the chief minister when he visited the department in November last year. The chief minister had spent quite some time with the students and teachers of the department, chatting about films and film-making. After admitting that he was “impressed” by the quality of the films, it was Bhattacharjee’s turn to be “astonished” after he learnt the cost of making the films he had liked so much.

The chief minister, according to senior varsity officials, asked students and teachers of the department how they managed to make such films on such a shoestring budget. After that came the promise to offer “all help” if the authorities submitted a proposal.

The film studies department, accordingly, submitted a proposal to the university’s finance section that, it hoped, would make its way to the university budget. “The whole thing was being taken forward in such a manner that the extra grant would be repeated every year,” a senior university official said, explaining why the chief minister’s promise was sought to be taken into the varsity budget.

But, as things now stand, the department’s students — whom Bhattacharjee had referred to as “promising” — will have to go on making films at even lower budgets than last year. The film studies department has been sanctioned Rs 1.54 lakh for the “laboratory teaching” head; that, in the film studies department, translates to film-making.

But the real amount it is going to get is substantially less than that — Rs 92,400 — because there is a 40 per cent embargo on all non-salary expenses because of the ongoing crunch in funds, say officials.

They admit that, at a time when film-making costs are shooting through the roof, making two films at less than Rs 50,000 apiece borders on the impossible. Senior JU officials now say the plea for extra funds for the department is going to be “specially placed in the chief minister’s office”. This will mark a sharp departure from the “proposal-through-budget” stand they had taken earlier.

The change in stance, predictably, has not convinced too many on the campus. After seeing their varsity failing to submit a proposal in more than 50 days, students of the department apprehend that the chief minister’s unique gesture may go abegging because of their own varsity’s “lackadaisical attitude”.

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