The office of the Australian Consul General in Chennai has offered to lend a helping hand to the Tamil film fraternity in figuring out ways to preserve its rich heritage.
Taking note of a news report in The Hindu that only 100 of the earliest films in Tamil have found a place in the 2,000-plus films of the National Film Archive, the Australian Consul General for South India Sean Kelly has initiated a public diplomacy programme, bringing senior conservator Mick Newnham to the city to hold talks with various producers and trade bodies.
Earlier this week, Mr. Newnham met representatives of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, visited several production houses including AVM, Gemini and AP Films International and also the leading production facility Prasad lab. On Friday, Mr. Kelly hosted a dinner for all the leading members of the Tamil film fraternity. Iconic actor and film-maker Kamal Haasan, who was present, evinced keen interest in the collaboration.
Mr. Newnham, who is currently the manager of Conservation & Research, at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia in Canberra, in a chat with The Hindu, said film conservation should be seen as a part of preserving one’s culture. “Often only certain films that have monetary viability in terms of business are preserved. These might be blockbuster classics. But it makes a lot of sense to try and preserve some of the oldest films because they are full of information about the time they come from.”
It has been a long-pending demand from several persons in the Tamil film industry that an archive be created to preserve some of the earliest Tamil films. The industry has a long and vibrant history and the region has been producing films since the 1930s, almost parallel to the first Indian feature films. (The first silent film was ‘Keechaka Vadam’ in 1916 by R. Nataraja Mudaliar, whereas the first talkie was ‘Kalidas’, a multi-lingual in 1931)
During the course of one of his last interviews to media, legendary film-maker Balu Mahendra, who passed away in February this year, had lamented some of his earlier films from the 1970s and 1980s were lost forever.
Mr. Newnham pointed out that the tropical climate posed huge challenges to film conservation. “Without proper care, it could all be wiped away in time,” he warned.
The film conservator is expected to prepare an action plan based on his visits and impressions. He noted that some of the labs in Chennai had world-class capabilities when it came to film restoration and digitisation. However, Australia is expected to bring in its own niche capabilities.