Shivendra Singh Dungarpur: ‘They said I was wasting my time’

The filmmaker and archivist talks about how the phenomenal success of Bachchan: Back to the Beginning smoothed the way for the Dilip Kumar: Hero Of Heroes film festival to be held on December 10 and 11

December 07, 2022 04:48 pm | Updated 04:48 pm IST

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Following the success of Bachchan: Back to the Beginning in October 2022, the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) has announced a film festival to commemorate Dilip Kumar’s 100 th birth anniversary. Bachchan Back to the Beginning celebrated the Big B’s 80 th birthday with a screening of 11 of his superhits including Don (1978), Kaala Patthar (1979), Kaalia (1981), Kabhie Kabhie (1976) and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) across 18 cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Surat and Baroda.

Dilip Kumar, who dominated the Hindi film scene from Jugnu (1947) to Ram Aur Shyam (1967), holds a fantastic box office record, with over 80 % success. He got the maximum number of Filmfare awards for Best Actor — eight (later equalled by Shah Rukh Khan). At a time when loud melodrama was the order of the day, Dilip Kumar brought in understated method acting. 

The Dilip Kumar: Hero Of Heroes film festival will screen four of the thespian’s iconic films including Aan (1952), Devdas (1955), Ram Aur Shyam (1967) and Shakti (1982) in over 20 cities across India on December 10 and 11.

People’s superstar

A scene from ‘Don’ at the Bachchan Back to the Beginning screening

A scene from ‘Don’ at the Bachchan Back to the Beginning screening

Filmmaker and archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur founded the FHF in 2014 to preserve India’s cinematic heritage. “We wanted to make classic cinema popular,” says Dungarpur over the phone from Mumbai.

“With Mr Bachchan, who is also the brand ambassador of the foundation, turning 80, it seemed to offer the perfect opportunity. We did not want to showcase his films as part of a retrospective at a film festival as Amitabh Bachchan is a people’s man. How do you show his work in a way that was accessible to the common man? That was essentially the idea behind Bachchan: Back to the Beginning.”

Why go to a theatre

Most people told Dungarpur that the screening of classic films at a cinema was not going to work. “They said ‘You are wasting your time. When a film is available on YouTube, why would anyone go to a theatre to watch a film? We don’t see the point of this exercise’.”

Back then, there was another reason to oppose screening those films in a theatre. Dungarpur says, “They were worried that if the theatres showing these films were empty, it would shatter the myth of these iconic films.”

Dungarpur called Ajay Bijli of PVR and told him of the plan for a Bachchan retrospective. “We are on the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) board.

Expansion plans

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur with Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu during the shoot of his 2012 documentary, ‘Celluloid Man’.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur with Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu during the shoot of his 2012 documentary, ‘Celluloid Man’.

“He suggested doing the retrospective in Mumbai. I said I would like to do the festival in many cities.”

Convinced, Bijli’s team started to discuss the possibility of getting the retrospective on the road. The big challenge, Dungarpur says was getting the material, which was with different producers, exhibitors and rights holders.

Availability factor

“Many people asked me how I picked the 11 Bachchan films. A large part of it was what we got. The films have been sold to OTT channels, the material is in poor condition and had been adapted into different aspect ratios. It was an impossible task. I went through three months of talking, convincing and traveling to find the right material.”

Funds were difficult to come by, says Dungarpur. “Nobody came forward to give us the money except Siddharth Roy Kapur. Now I am getting calls from all across the world asking me, ‘Can you give a talk, can you write, can you bring this festival here’?”

Song and dance

It has become the biggest success story of the year, Dungarpur says with satisfaction. “People are jumping, dancing and singing in aisles. We started with a few cities and finally managed to get 18 cities. It has been incredible. Young people made up 70% of the audience, according to PVR.”

Apart from the two film festivals, FHF restored G. Aravindan’s Thampu (1978), which was premiered at Cannes. “The last two films we restored were Aravindan’s films. Thampu was also screened at the London Film Festival where it was sold out.”

The restorations were done in collaboration with Martin Scorsese’s film Foundation. “We are working on restoring Ishanou (1990), a Manipuri film directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and the Odia film, Maya Miriga (1984), directed by Nirad N. Mohapatra.”

The foundation has also facilitated the restoration of four Bimal Roy films - Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Devdas (1955), Madhumati (1958), and Bandini (1963) and curated a package of 15 Indian films for the recently-concluded Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes, France. There is also the annual preservation and restoration workshop by the FHF in collaboration with the Federation of Film Archives and Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, the seventh edition was held this year in Mumbai.

Dilip Kumar: Hero Of Heroes is on December 10 and 11. Tickets on www.pvrcinemas.com.

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