Prashant Pathrabe on preserving the films of one of the oldest and most prolific film industries in the world
When Sandhya Raga, starring Rajkumar and Bharathi, was screened in the nostalgia section of the recently concluded Bangalore International Film Festival (BIFFes), Prashant Pathrabe, Director, National Film Archive of India (NFAI) asked Bharathi about the quality of the film screened. “Amazing!” she said. “The quality of the film has not depreciated even after 45 years of its production.” Pathrabe calls this “the magic of digitisation”.
If the entire gamut of films screened in the nostalgia section won the hearts of the cine buffs at the festival, a big chunk of the credit should go to NFAI which has taken up the work of restoring old films by digitising them on a massive scale. The archive is leaving no stone unturned to safeguard the heritage of Indian cinema for posterity.
Pathrabe, who brought these films to Bangalore, assumed the office of the Director of NFAI in March. He speaks passionately on the necessity to protect the century-old cinematic heritage of the country.
“NFAI's massive film digitisation programme hopes to preserve cinema and also make it accessible to a wider audience. This is the primary mandate of the organisation and we have presented a few Blu-ray Discs of restored films in this festival. For instance, people were able to watch G. Aravindan's films such as Thampu, Vasthuhara, Estheppan, Chidambaram and Kummatty in good quality prints,” he says.
In the nostalgia section, films made between the years 1925 and 1966 such as Light of Asia (silent era film), Sandhya Raga, Yatrik, Achhut Kanya, Aadmi, Vasantasena, Apoorva Sahodarargal and Meera were screened.
“None of those who watched the movies complained about their quality, thanks to the restoration and digitisation,” he adds.
Advent of technology
Pathrabe feels that the NFAI also has a role in strengthening the film society movement, which is fading with the advent of modern technology.
“As part of its activities of spreading a culture of films, NFAI has a distribution library of films which supplies prints to societies, educational institutions and cultural organisations in the country.
With digitisation, the problem of transportation of films has been solved. We need not wait for the print to come back since we have additional DVDs to send to societies,” he says.
He describes the Digital Library of Indian Cinema, an NFAI initiative, as a major step towards propagating Indian film culture in the country and abroad.
He adds that the Indian film industry has the distinction of being one of the oldest and most prolific film industries, producing more than a 1,000 features annually.
A social record
“These films are a record of our social and cultural heritage, across generations. The safeguarding of these national assets — the films, photographs, wall posters, song booklets, scripts — and providing easy access to them are of primary importance,” he says.
He appeals to all those concerned about preserving Indian cinema to join hands with the NFAI to trace and acquire old and recent Indian films and related ancillary material.