In a country whose sole unifying national obsession is probably cinema, collections of film artefacts and memorabilia in the country have mostly been private. That gap is about to be filled.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is set to unveil a 6,000-square foot National Museum of Indian Cinema in Gulshan Mahal, a heritage building on Pedder Road in Mumbai. Being opened on the occasion of 100 years of Indian cinema, it is part of a larger complex of 50,000 square feet that will come up in several phases.
Starting off as a ready reckoner of the history of cinema, particularly Indian cinema, the museum through its interactive galleries will trace the evolution of celluloid from the Lumière brothers to Raja Harishchandra and beyond, and showcase Indian cinema through three principal eras — silent, golden and modern. Plans for later include a cafeteria, a curio shop and an auditorium.
“Gulshan Mahal is a heritage building, so there were restrictions on altering the façade,” says a senior official in the ministry. “However the interiors have been thoroughly refurbished and we are almost done with an interactive walk through down cinema’s memory lane. We have also refurbished an old studio on the premises. The museum is curated by the National Council of Science Museums. It will be inaugurated soon.”
So far Rs 20 crore has been spent on the project. The families of several film personalities, including a recently deceased director from eastern India and an Oscar winner, have expressed their willingness to donate artefacts.
Famous studios of yesteryear such as Mehboob Studios and R K Studios in Mumbai and Prasad Studios in the South have already donated equipment. A once famous studio in Kolkata is ready to give equipment that the likes of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen had worked with. Some private collectors too have offered to donate items.
For the first phase, however, most of the items on display have come from the collection of Films Division, which started off in 1941 as the Information Films of India with a mandate to produce short films to dispense information about the war and also propagate British agenda. Old cameras such as Eymo, Arri and Mitchell that were in fashion in the first half of the 20th century, and some of the even older instruments that created an illusion of movement using the theory of persistence of vision, are among the items showcased. Visitors can also watch old classics on a number of monitors or listen to rare film music from the past — a sort of free jukebox. Whether the museum will have an entry fee has not been decided.
The ministry recently evolved a financial model for acquiring items for which their current owners seek payment. It has, however, been going slow on procurement, primarily because of issues of storage and curating. There are also concerns about how to authenticate claims — how to establish, for example, that a camera that is said to have been used by a certain filmmaker actually was.
Included in the long-term plans are periodic displays of notable private collections and exchange shows with similar European museums.