Many of our classics are in urgent need of restoration.
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s documentary “Celluloid Man” arrived at an important juncture last year. Amidst all the celebrations that were occasioned by Indian cinema turning 100, the film showed that we were guilty of indifference, even abuse, to our cinematic heritage.
In the course of making the film, a tribute to the legendary archivist P.K. Nair and his tireless efforts in film preservation, Dungarpur understood that much of our cinematic heritage is neglected, and therefore endangered. Realising that urgent steps needed to be taken to save this legacy, Dungarpur set up the Film Heritage Foundation in January 2014.
Having collaborated with Martin Scorsese on the restoration of Uday Shankar’s “Kalpana”, with the British Film Institute on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lodger”, and on the 1972 Sinhalese film “Nidhanya” directed by eminent Sri Lankan filmmaker Lester James Peries, Dungarpur is aware of the nitty-gritties of restoration. It entails for him, not digitisation, but preserving the negatives. “We hope to build awareness of the importance of the source, of celluloid,” he says.
The aim of the foundation is twofold, says Dungarpur. It will “support the conservation, preservation and restoration of films”, as also develop programs that use film as an educational tool, to “bring about a change in how cinematic heritage is viewed.” Work to this effect is already underway in a few schools in Rajasthan. A consortium of film critics, directors, and memory keepers – Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Jaya Bachchan, P.K. Nair, Kumar Shahani, Krzysztof Zanussi, Gian Luca Farinelli and Mark Cousins – forms the advisory board of the foundation.
One of the first activities of the Foundation will be to curate screenings of eight Indian films from the 1950s, at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, Italy, to be held between June 28 and July 5. These include classics such as “Awara”, “Chandralekha”, “Do Bigha Zamin”, “Pyaasa”, “Ajantrik” and “Mother India”.
While these films are household names, few are aware that they are in danger of being lost. “Most of the original negatives do not exist and what survives are dupe negatives and prints in poor condition”. Citing Ritwik Ghatak’s “Ajantrik” as an example, Dungarpur says “one reel of its opening sequence is missing”. If such is the fate of the well-known films of the decade, one can only imagine with dread what remains of the others.
The foundation believes the work of restoration must also include more than just feature films. At the festival, Films Division newsreels (from the 1950s and before), capturing historic events such as the Dalai Lama’s coming to India and a meeting between Charlie Chaplin and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, will also be shown. “These might have been intended originally as propaganda material, but their value as time capsules is indubitable, says Dungarpur.
Later this year, the foundation also plans to institute a restoration school in India, where students will learn the process of restoration.