There has been a renewed effort to restore Indian films and this could bring back Uday Shankars Kalpana,Chetan Anands Haqeeqat and Gautam Ghoses debut in Telugu. But there is another side to the story of classics lost forever
Mrinal Sens film Khandhar,which was restored and screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year,will not be the only film that you would get to watch in a new avatar.
After the Centre passed an order in 2008 directing the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) to preserve films,there has been a renewed effort to restore Indias cinematic heritage. While the NFAI has restored many films ,these will not be available for public viewing. The films are for preservation purposes only, says Vijay Jadhav,director,NFAI. However,other bodies like the World Cinema Foundation (WCF) of Martin Scorsese and the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC),which have tied up with private labs to restore films,will be exhibiting the restored versions in coming months.
Recently,the WCF expressed its keenness to restore Uday Shankars 1948 film Kalpana. A young dancers dream to set up a dance academy,it is considered mildly autobiographical and stars Shankar and his wife Amala. The WCF has meanwhile concluded the digital restoration of Ritwik Ghataks Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Named Titas). The 1973 film that interconnects several tales is cinematically significant. The film was restored by the WCF six months ago and we were grateful that they came forward to help, says Ghataks daughter Samhita.
Haqeeqat,a 1964 black-and-white film directed by Chetan Anand,which stars Dharmendra and Balraj Sahni,is getting finishing touches at QLabs,Mumbai. Anands son Ketan has asked the lab to bring out the war film (it was set during the 1962 India-China war) in colour and rework the sound in booming Dolby 5.1. Mohit Shetty of QLabs says the studio is targeting a release on August 15.
Many might not remember,but Bengali filmmaker Goutam Ghoses debut feature film,Ma Bhoomi (1979),was in Telugu and it was about the Telangana peasant uprising. The film is being restored at Prasad Labs,Chennai,for the past two years. We managed to restore the film from the negatives. The sound remains to be restored. Im keeping my fingers crossed, says producer G Narsing Rao. The movie,which won the Andhra Pradesh state award for best film,will have a theatrical release.
The NFDC too has plans to make its restored films available for public viewing. It is restoring Ketan Mehtas 1985 film Mirch Masala,Govind Nihalanis Party,GV Iyers 1983 Sanskrit film Adi Shankaracharya,Shyam Benegals Mammo which received the National award for best film in 1995 and Jabbar Patels Musafir. We are launching our home video label soon for these films, says D Ramakrishnan of NFDC. The films will also be available for satellite broadcast and festival screenings.
IN the summer of 1931,filmmaker Ardeshir Irani screened a love story at the Majestic Cinema in Bombay. A film about a prince and a gypsy girl who talked and sang,it had crowds gathering to watch this little miracle called the talkie. It was Alam Ara,Indias first talking film,starring Prithviraj Kapoor and Zubeida.
Iranis precious film,a milestone in Indias film history,is lost forever,along with many silent films and early talkies.
Most of the prints were ruined in our hot and humid climate. The NFAI was established only in 1964. The negatives of films made in the early 20the century were never preserved. Even if they were,it would be a shoddy job because India did not have proper preservation technology, says Vijay Jadhav,director,NFAI.
Alam Ara was gutted at the Film and Television Institute of India,Pune,in 2003,when a fire ravaged a storage vault,destroying 1,700 nitrate-based prints. There were films produced by the Wadia Movietone,Bombay Talkies,Prabhat Studios and the New Theatre. While Jadhav claims that most of these prints had copies,many like Alam Ara are lost forever.
He points out that many films made by Jamashedji Madan under the famous banner,Madan Theatres,too are not to be found anywhere. This includes the famous Patni Pratap starring the Anglo Indian heroine from Calcutta,Patience Cooper,in a double role,and Indrasabha (1932) that had 69 songs.
Suresh Chhabaria,professor,FTII,says,One,India does not like preserving history. Two,the negatives of the films made before the 1950s were mostly on nitrocellulose base,which is a highly inflammable material. Even a slight spark could end up burning down a studio. A lot of films got lost in fires in various studios. Jadhav agrees: Prints from those times could not have survived,considering they had nitrate base.
Another major loss is the original print of Raja Harishchandra by Dadasaheb Phalke Indias first film released in 1913. Only two of the four reels are available with the NFAI and even the authenticity of those reels has been questioned. Pune-based private collector Subhash Chedda,who has been collecting films and preserving them for the past 25 years,claims that those are prints of a 1917 remake. He says,Of almost 1,300 films made before 1940,only 25 are preserved. Film restoration has been taken up with gusto in countries that want to protect their cinematic heritage,but the film fraternity in India is yet to join hands to make any attempt at restoring our gems, says Chedda. In spite of a huge market for old Indian films abroad,he does not think that copies of these films could have reached foreign collectors since copies were never made of those films. Chhabaria says,Those days even filmmakers did not bother about preserving films.
This is a lost world of movies one which should have silently shown or spoken or sung the origins of Indian films.
The Big Losses
Gunsundari: A 1927 silent film by Chandulal Shah,it stars Gohar Khan as a wife who wins back her wayward husband. The movie was a huge success and the formula endlessly repeated
Alam ArA: Indias first talkie
Patni Pratap: Directed by JJ Madan and starring Anglo-Indian actor Patience Cooper in a double role
Indrasabha: A film by Madan that was popular for its 69 songs
Bhakta Prahlada: The first Telugu talkie made by HM Reddy in 1931
Hamari Baat: Devika Ranis last film (1943)