History is one thing you can stumble upon just about anywhere — even in a dustbin. Some years ago, Anand theatre was closed down. It was being demolished to make way for the huge mall coming up on Anna Salai now. “I was passing by when I suddenly spotted some old stills, posters and lobby cards stuffed in a trash can outside the premises. I asked the watchman there and then loaded my Maruti 800 with as much of it as I could,” says Sruti Harihara Subramanian.
With that as initial investment, Sruti kept adding to her collection that eventually became The Cinema Resource Centre. The three rooms in her Alwarpet office now house a sizeable chunk of cinema history. She opens a drawer and an eighties’ Rajinikanth pops out of an ultra-colourful poster, smiling. In the steel shelf in a corner lies a bunch of stark black and white pictures of a much younger Mohanlal. In yet another bureau is a fascinating album of photographs that tells the story of Rudhraiya’s ‘Aval Appadithan’.
A registered trust, the resource centre seeks to preserve and showcase the bygone era of south Indian cinema through relics such as posters, script notebooks and publicity stills. “I am equipping myself better to preserve this material. It is going to take a while, but I feel it must be done,” she says. A filmmaker who has assisted leading directors for nearly a decade now, Sruti’s passion is rooted not just in her own interest in the art form, but also in the frustration that somehow, Bollywood has become the face of Indian cinema. The collection is a combination of what Sruti carefully picked up as well as things she accidentally came across, and easily spans about eight decades. “Mr. Suresh Balaji (son of actor Balaji) was vacating the office of his production house. I found a truckload of material there,” she says.
If a poster of Rajinikanth in bell bottoms, or a photograph of Kamal Hassan holding a microphone summons a flashback, there is material for those with an academic interest too – from screenplay books that give scene-wise descriptions, to magazines featuring interviews with top actors and technicians.
It is Sruti’s dream to build this venture into a space with a book and video library, a cinema museum, memorabilia store, a film equipment rental service and a cafe.