The year was 1961. A cinematic adaptation of Rabindranath Tagores short story,Kabuliwala,captured the poignant tale of Rahman Khan and won several hearts in a newly-partitioned nation. It had no twists and turns and depicted old-world Calcutta as a city with colonial imprints,resistant to change. The screenplay was powered as much by Hemen Guptas direction,as by Balraj Sahnis acting and had the unforgettable track Aye mere pyare watan,sung by Manna Dey.
Almost half a century later,the memories still evoke emotions. While the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) and the Government of India do not have a single negative or print of the film,the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) has now sourced a televised format of the film from Bimal Roys family. It is being restored in studios in Mumbai and Pune. The film will be released in DVD format,as part of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Tagore,this year. The audience needs to see these iconic films in the new formats, says Neena Gupta,managing director,NFDC,who has undertaken the project under the direction of the Ministry of Culture.
Apart from Kabuliwala,other films being restored are Char Adhyaya,Khudito Pashan and Natir Puja,a silent film directed by Tagore. Most of these were deliquescing in film archives across India,before NFDC floated tenders to restore them last year. If Natir Puja came from the West Bengal State Film Corporation,Char Adhyaya and Khudito Pashan were at storage vaults in NFAI.
The process is painstaking and the work has been delegated to several studios. Taking care of the video restoration is Mumbai-based Avitel Post Studioz,that is responsible for removing the chemical stains and scratches from three of the four films. The films are very old and they were never preserved properly,so the damage to the prints is medium to high,with a lot of static,film tears and severe degeneration. It is repairable though, says Ankit Garg,digital post director with Avitel Studioz. He adds that apart from restoration for DVD purposes,the films are also being converted into high resolution tape formats for archival use. The process will allow the authorities to preserve the film for the next 25 years,without worrying about degeneration, says Jain,pointing out that the composition structure is relatively easier because the films are black-and-white.
Unlike the talkies that are being restored in Avitel Studioz,Natir Pujas video restoration is being done by Mumbai-based Pixion Studios. Meanwhile,15 technicians at Punes Cameo Digital Labs are busy working on the audio restoration of the film. Audio restoration in India is a new technology and I am glad we are working on it. The audio damage is fairly high. There is a high amount of hiss,crackle and static that is being removed by laser scanning, says Purab Gujjar,owner of Cameo,adding that the tedious process requires isolating the optical sound,and making sure that the original sound of the film remains untarnished.