It was 1953. In cinema halls across a newly partitioned India, a man’s fortunes were dislodged. They were translated through one torrid scene after another as Balraj Sahani, playing a poor peasant named Shambu, struggled to save his patch of land in Do Bigha Zamin. The iconic rickshaw race scene, where a man in Shambu’s hand-pulled rickshaw keeps raising the money on the pretext of him running faster, placing the apathy of a poor man to the fore.
Bimal Roy’s iconic classic Do Bigha Zamin will be showcased at the 28th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna, Italy, between June 28 and July 5. But the showcase at one of the world’s biggest restoration festival will happen through dupe negatives and prints, which are in poor condition. “The idea is to highlight the condition of our films and the need to preserve them,” says filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who has set up Film Heritage Foundation, aimed at preservation, conservation and archival of films.
Do Bigha Zamin is among eight other Indian films that are a part of the festival. These include Awara (1951), Mother India (1957), Ajantrik (1958), Chandralekha (1948) and Pyaasa (1957). Filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s film Ajantrik will be screened without the opening titles because they can’t be found in any of the government and private archives in the country.
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The screening will also include footage of Mahatma Gandhi’s first meeting with Charlie Chaplin, The Dalai Lama’s first visit to India, felicitation of Edmund Hillary in India and Dr Radhakrishnan’s first visit to Disney Land with Walt Disney. “These reels may have been made for propaganda but are an important part of the country’s history,” says Dungarpur.
His foundation was conceived during the filming of Celluloid Man (2012), Dungarpur’s award-winning documentary on PK Nair, the founder of National Film Archives of India. “Unlike the fine arts, drama, dance and music, cinema in our constitution is not an art form. No government has ever put their mind into preserving. During Celluloid Man, I realised how much was lost, including India’s first film, Alam Ara,” says Dungarpur, who recently collaborated with Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese on the restoration of Uday Shankar’s Kalpana (1948) and with the British Film Institute for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1927). He has shortlisted 100 films, of these 50 will be restored on priority.
Dungarpur is urging people to come forward and adopt a film and finance its restoration. “We hope that we will get people and the government interested to preserve the nation’s heritage,” he says.