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Remembrance of films past

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur doesn’t just collect film memorabilia, he also restores, preserves and archives. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur doesn’t just collect film memorabilia, he also restores, preserves and archives. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury  

A film buff will instantly become a thief when he takes a look at Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s enviable collection of film memorabilia. The filmmaker-restorer-archivist’s seventh floor Tardeo office is spilling over with goodies. There is a Magic Lantern nestled quietly in a corner. There are cameras, several of them, including a Lumiere and a Mitchell, identical to Dziga Vertov’s in Man With A Movie Camera. But this is just the cake. The icing and the cherry is tucked away one flight below, in an innocuous sixth floor chamber. Here is the Film Heritage Foundation’s priceless collection of posters, lobby cards, song booklets, film tickets, scripts, festival brochures, projectors, magazines ( Screen, Filmfare, FilmIndia), even old Censor Board certificates. There is the camera used by Raj Kapoor for Shree 420 and Awara and K.L. Saigal’s original harmonium. There are even letters written by popular film personalities, the most prized one being from filmmaker P.C. Barua to actress Jamuna. “The idea has been to collect and preserve everything possible,” says Dungarpur.

Satyajit Ray, Saeed Mirza, Kidar Sharma, A.R. Kardar, Ritwik Ghatak, K.L. Saigal… they all get their allotted compartments. Paper clippings or posters are neatly stacked, wrapped in acid-free sheets, in the drawers. In one corner, a girl is cleaning up negatives, in another a boy is sorting out newspaper articles and clippings. The non-film archive is temperature- and humidity-controlled; worktables, chairs and vaults are all customised, designed to minute specifications. There is another, 500-strong film archive in Byculla that houses the entire collection of Govind Nihalani films as well as Pather Panchali, Shree 420, Rashomon and Battleship Potempkin, among others. Last heard, Vishal Bhardwaj was planning to give away all his films to Dungarpur for conservation. Families of older stars have come forward to donate their collections while a lot of material has also been purchased.

Dungarpur’s FHF is a unique private cinema collection. There might be many collectors across India but Dungarpur does not just collect, he also restores, preserves, and archives. The only other such enterprise in the country is the government-run National Film Archives of India in Pune. Dungarpur’s might seem miniscule compared to NFAI’s 15,000-strong film collection but it’s admirable for an individual. “We are the pioneers in the private sector; we are not in competition with the government,” he says. In fact, they are now collaborating, working on a unique public-private enterprise — a 10-day intensive film preservation and restoration workshop to be held in NFAI from February 26 to March 6.

Open to applicants from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it will be held in association with the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, George Eastman Museum, the US, Selznick School of Film Preservation, and the L’Immagine Ritrovata film restoration laboratory from Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna. Especially designed by David Walsh, head of FIAF Technical Commission, the focus will be on practical training — film inspection, repair and cleaning, and conservation of posters, stills, negatives etc.

FTII graduate Dungarpur’s passion for cinema heritage began when he read a Martin Scorsese interview where the director spoke of Cineteca di Bologna and how they were breathing life back into the classics. Scorsese wrote about Il Cinema Ritrovato, a festival of restored films, which intrigued Dungarpur enough to travel and see it for himself. He hasn’t stopped going since then. Dungarpur helped facilitate the restoration of Uday Shankar’s Kalpana for Scorsese’s World Cinema project, and the print premiered at Cannes in 2012.

India’s film heritage is in precarious condition. By the time the NFAI was set up in 1964, 70-80 per cent of films had already been lost. The first talkie, Alam Ara, is lost save for a few stills. Of the 1,700 silent films, only five or six remain. When Dungarpur set up the not-for-profit FHF in January 2014, he was already committed passionately to preservation, restoration and archiving. But he doesn’t want his organisation to be the only one. The idea is to build a pool of professionals in a field where almost none exist. “It can’t just be about NFAI, Films Division, Doordarshan or me. Film heritage can’t be the responsibility of a few. Let there be 10,000 more like us,” he says. Therefore, the workshop. It will also kick off the National Film Heritage Mission, a mass digitisation and restoration project, and help the government build infrastructure and professional talent.

Meanwhile, FHF has identified 50 pre-1960 films that are urgently in need of restoration, though they are preserved at NFAI. FHF will also digitise its archival material and provide free access to anyone engaged in research. Another extension is the foundation’s online presence, especially on Facebook, where aficionados engage in serious exchanges about cinema. In fact, Immortals, a film commissioned by the Busan International Film Festival, on the images and objects of Indian cinema, is a spin-off from Dungarpur’s collection, one which the collector will soon move from Tardeo and Byculla to a bigger space, somewhere between Mumbai and Pune.

As for the man, he is in the middle of editing his new documentary on the Czech new wave with a focus on filmmaker Jiri Menzel. Shot over six years with extensive interviews with Woody Allen, Ken Loach, and Emir Kasturica, the spotlight is, of course, firmly and fondly on the past.

First aid for a film

When Bardroy Barretto, director of Konkani blockbuster Nachom-ia Kumpasar, landed up at the Film Heritage Foundation office in March last year, he had with him a can wrapped in paper. It was the only surviving reel of Mogacho Aunndo (Love’s Craving), first-ever Konkani film and the only film to have been made under the Portuguese regime. Directed by Al Jerry Braganza, Mogacho Aunndo was released on April 24, 1950 in Mapusa and a few Bombay theatres. The next Konkani feature film, Amchem Noxib, directed by A. Salam and produced by musician Frank Fernand, would be released only 13 years later in 1963. The Mogacho Aunndo reel had been given to Barretto by journalist Isidore Dantas who, in turn, had got it from one of Al Braganza’s nephews.

“Bardroy asked if we could do something,” recalls Shivendra Dungarpur. At first glance, it seemed almost impossible. “It was in tatters, with holes.” But Dungarpur was delighted at having found, even if only a brittle fragment, of what was considered a lost film.

They kept it in dehumidifier, gave it camphor treatment, but realised that not much more was possible in India. Eventually, it was sent to film restoration lab L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, in April last year. It is still a work-in-progress and the delicate, manual treatment process of dehydration, rehydration and scanning will take a long time to breathe life back into the movie. The soundtrack, too, is badly damaged and the lab is working to retrieve as much as possible through new software. Meanwhile, Dungarpur is hopeful of being able to find the remaining reels of the film to restore. Mogacho Aunndo, as Dungarpur says, shows why no heritage object should ever be thrown away, no matter what condition it is in.

For info on the film restoration workshop, go to http://www.nfaipune.gov.in/pdf/FPRWI2016AppFrm05-11-2015.pdf

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2020 5:31:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/Remembrance-of-films-past/article14001630.ece

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