An ongoing effort by the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) — to assess the condition of all films in its possession — has been temporarily disrupted due to the “shortage of material” required for the work. It has forced the private agency that was in-charge of the ‘assessment project’ to halt its operations and send many of its contract employees, hired specifically for this project, on forced leave of “three to six months”.
The project involved the identification, condition analysis, cataloguing and repair of all film collections, and was part of the Rs 597-crore National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM). The work on this project had begun in February this year and was scheduled to be completed within six months. That schedule has already been breached, and the latest disruption will delay the project even further.
By the end of October, when the staff strength on the project was cut to half, only 60,000 film reels out of the total of 1.32 lakh in possession of NFAI had been segregated and categorised by film checkers, while only 9,000 reels were inspected, assessed and repaired by film editors, some of the contractual staff involved in the work told The Indian Express.
The delay in completion of this assessment project is likely to hit other works to be carried out under subsequent phases of NFHM relating to conservation, restoration and digitisation of films. For some of these works, contracts have already been awarded.
The assessment project was also important as it would have revealed the actual number of film titles and film reels held by NFAI in its vaults. In its 53-year history, NFAI has never officially carried out an inventory of films, and has relied only on its accession registers while reporting its film collection to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B), as well as the public. In September this year, an investigation by The Indian Express had revealed that a private firm, engaged for the work of pasting barcodes on film cans in 2012, had found that as many as 51,500 cans containing 9,200 film prints, which were on accession registers of NFAI, were “not physically present” in its vaults.
Chennai-based Prasad Consortium, which was awarded the assessment contract, had commenced the work earlier this year after then Secretary, I&B, Ajay Mittal inaugurated the project on January 29, 2017. As per the Request for Proposal (RFP), the firm was supposed to finish the work “within six months after the award of contract” by “deploying sufficient professionals and trained manpower”.
Documents accessed show that in the last week of October, Pune-based Shiv Krupa Services, a manpower supply firm sub-contracted by Prasad Consortium, asked all 22 film editors employed by it for the project to stop reporting to work from November 1. It also reduced the number of film checkers, helpers as well as data entry operators and supervisors to half of the existing strength from the same date, an editor involved in the project said on condition of anonymity.
“We would hereby like to inform you that your services are being temporarily discontinued at NFAI, Pune, due to unavailability of material for the project which you are working on in Phase I. The break of services would be till we get the supply of materials from NFAI, ranging for a period of three to six months approximately,” read letters sent to the staffers on October 26.
“NFAI is responsible for supplying the material such as cans, labels, leaders (film strips attached at the beginning of the reel) and bobbins. We are told that most of the material has to be procured from abroad and hence there was an issue. They have promised to contact us once the material is here within three to six months and work restarts,” said the film editor.
NFAI Director Prakash Magdum and Officer on Special Duty for NFHM Santosh Ajmera did not reply to emails, text messages and phone calls seeking information about the status of the project and comments on the reasons for shortage of material.
Mohan Krishnan, head of Corporate Communications for Prasad Corporation, sent an email response expressing the firm’s inability to provide information due to the “confidentiality clause” specified by NFAI as part of the project.