The statistics are alarming. From a bouquet of 1700 silent films, only five to six films exist today. By 1950, we had lost almost 80 per cent of our films reveals Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, a successful ad-film-maker who had made the documentary Celluloid Man in 2012. Appalled at the rate at which valuable cinematic creations was losing out to the ravages of time and environment, Dungarpur was involved in restoring Uday Shankar’s film Kalpana (1948) with the Martin Scorcese Film Foundation. With several big Holly-wood names involved in restoring films to their former glory, the Foundation has stalwarts like Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Alex Paine among others whose efforts have helped in restoring over 600 films worldwide.
Alarmed at the complete lack of awareness and little effort to conserve our cinematic legacy, Dungarpur decided to organise a week-long workshop in collaboration with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata from February 22-28, 2015 at Films Division in Mumbai, who have given them the premise. Specialists from the biggest Federation of Film Archives (Brussels) will also be conducting sessions at the workshop. “They are like the United Nations. All the film archives are affiliated to it and is funded by UNESCO and other major institutions. They shall certify the students, so it is a very big tie-up and the first of its kind in India,” he reveals.
The workshop aims at not only teaching budding students of cinema the art of restoring films, but aims to inculcate in them the importance of preserving our cinematic heritage. About 20-25 people will be specially flown in from abroad, to teach 40 students the technique of restoration. Although it is an expensive proposition, the onus of raising funds rests on Dungarpur and his team of four people. Since, it is a non-profit organisation, only a nominal fee will be charged from the students. “But I have to raise 60-70 percent of the cost of orgainising this workshop. We will be bringing in equipment, monitors restoration scanners, sound equipment which will be 20 per cent of what my final budget is,” he explains.
There will be a three week on-line course, followed by the one week workshop where the students will be given practical lessons. Experts will be present and the students will watch films and its restored version. Initially, the workshops will be an annual event, but Dungarpur has plans to take it forward, depending on the response they get. They have approached the film industry and are happy at the response their effort has evinced. With big studios involved in the film-making process today, according to Dungarpur, how they use their material and conserve them is of utmost importance.
“Whistling Woods will also be involved. So far, we are getting a great response from all quarters. There is a curiosity about what film preservation is. In India, we have not had a full fledged restoration school, as a result of which we have not looked at it in a proper way. While restoring a film, it is imperative that there is a historian. It is not just the technical aspect, but also the right people should be associated with such work.When you are restoring a film, it’s like respecting the creative idea of the film-maker. For instance, if you are restoring a Raj Kapoor film, Awara, it is essential that the student understands the way cinematographer Raju Karmakar lit up the scene at that time, what were the colour tones used. If it is a black and white film, what were the hues used. You have to keep the film-maker’s perspective in mind while restoring a film. You cannot change the interpretation of the creator. We have technicians and equipment, but are people really interested? We need to find and discover and develop a generation of people who would like to do it at a professional level” says Dungarpur.
It took Scorcese’s team six months to restore Kalpana, of which Dungarpur was a part of, the time and cost involved in restoring a film may vary on the condition that it is in. In India, films have been restored for Rs. five lakhs, the cost runs into crores abroad. In fact, in Hollywood, a certain percentage of the earnings are kept aside for preserving the film. The foundation, which is only nine months old and has on its board of advisors stalwarts from the industry like Shyam Benegal and Gulzar, are slowly working towards building an archive restoring 35 mm films. “I want people to realise the importance of restoration, as the general opinion is that you just clean the films and digitalise them. Nobody looks at it as an art form,” moans Dungarpur. The foundation has initiated an education programme in Rajasthan where they are talking to young students about preserving our heritage. “It is important to inculcate this aspect from childhood so that people will understand the value of conservation as they grow older,” says Dungarpur.