Prabhat Museum: ‘This can’t be a museum. It’s a warehouse’

Prabhat Museum has been at the receiving end of administrative apathy and indifference of the Film and Television Institute of India officials.

Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune | Published:December 11, 2015 4:05 am
A visitor takes a look at cinematic images at Prabhat museum. Express photo A visitor takes a look at cinematic images at Prabhat museum. Express photo

While it’s undoubtedly the vanguard of good cinema in the country, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) seems apathetic towards the rich heritage of the Indian film industry it holds at its premise.

Prabhat Museum, which houses historical artefacts of Prabhat Film Company, one of India’s pioneering film companies, is suffering due to the administrative apathy and indifference of the high officials at the institute. Close observers say that the museum, in fact, has turned into a ‘warehouse’ and has seen a steady decline in the the number of visitors over the years.

Prabhat was founded by V Shanataram and some of his friends in Kolhapur in 1929 and it shifted to Pune in 1933. For over three decades, Prabhat made an incomparable mark on Indian cinema with its socially relevant films. The company, however, was defunct by 1953 and was sold to government which set up the country’s film institute at the premise. In 1994, all the artefacts of the company were assembled from Prabhat Museum and in 2008 it was thrown open for public. The museum houses over 300 artefacts, including original costumes, utensils, equipment, stills and contracts of the Company.

The current situation of the museum is such that it has abysmal footfall. The average number of visitors per day for the current year is two. And even those who pay a visit aren’t impressed by the way the artefacts have been kept. Jagannath Sarkar, a Kolkata-based artist who was visiting the city as part of a group hosting an exhibition, said he was utterly shocked at the state of the museum.

“I am appalled as I didn’t expect this from the FTII. They have placed the artefacts like dead objects. We can only see and move on, with no information on display. I could see some great pictures belonging to the Prabhat Company but some of them even don’t have the dates. There are many deed documents but we don’t know in what background they were executed or who were the parties. This museum is in utter mess,” said Sarkar.

Swapnil Ninawe, a direction student at the institute, said that visitors often leave feeling cheated. “I won’t call it a museum. It’s become a warehouse. Although these artefacts were once part of the glorious tradition of Prabhat Film Company, they are stored in such a fashion as if they have no history and are devoid of any significance,” said Ninawe. He calls it “zero involvement” on part of the institute administration.

A Right to Information query filed by The Indian Express revealed that the number of visitors has tumbled over the years. From 2,882 visitors in 2010, the number has come down to 683 this year (until first week December). Although there has been steady decline in the number of visitors over the years, the administration is yet to wake up and take notice. In a response to a query asking details of the efforts taken by the FTII administration to publicise the museum, the department incharge stated that they have put up a board at the institute entrance and a link on its website.

When brought to his notice, UC Bodake, Registrar, FTII, said that he will direct the concerned departments to take proactive measures to promote the museum. “Since you have brought this to my notice, we shall very soon contact Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, Pune Municipal Corporation to include the museum in their Pune Darshan programme. We shall also send invitations to schools and colleges informing them about the rich heritage of the museum,” said Bodake. He said he will soon direct the authorities to put up information boards giving valuable details about each artefact and the production department will be asked to guide the visitors around the museum.

Missing artefacts

The response to the RTI query also revealed some glaring flaws in the way the museum is being managed by the institute. The information shows that since 1994 when the institute got custody of the articles, it didn’t carry out a single audit in over 20 years to check if the artefacts were intact and that none have gone missing. “We will now carry out weekly audits,” said Bodake. Institute insiders even disclosed that “someone related to the museum could have been taking away the artefacts for a shoot and not returning them”. The management, meanwhile, said that they have “no such information” to accept or deny this. “We can’t say if things have gone missing or not. Initially, the Film Research Officer was responsible for the upkeep, now it’s the Security Officer. Also, since the latter’s post is contractual, therefore, fixing responsibility is difficult,” said Bodake.

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