AS MANY as 11,000 film cans containing celluloid negatives of documentaries made by Films Division (FD) over the last several decades are being stored without any environment control in the corridors of its office in Mumbai. Reason: Lack of space, say officials.
FD officials requested Pune-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI) to accept these reels for preservation. But NFAI expressed its inability to do so because of space shortage at its own facilities.
According to information obtained under the RTI Act, the FD has sent 19,787 film cans to the NFAI in 21 tranches between September 1996 and December 2015 — but the NFAI can’t accept any more at the moment as the two vaults it has earmarked for FD films are full.
Until three years ago, these FD reels were stored in air-conditioned rooms on the ninth floor of its Phase I building on Peddar Road in Mumbai. But in 2016, it had to vacate the space after the Union I&B Ministry decided to house the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in that space. The CBFC was earlier functioning from Walkeshwar.
The film cans were then shifted to the corridors of the sixth and seventh floors of the building, while 6,896 reels were sent to NFAI for safekeeping in three tranches. But 11,000 reels continue to be stored “temporarily” in the corridors.
In a communication dated November 14, 2018, the then FD Director-General Prashant Pathrabe sought the “urgent attention” of NFAI Director Prakash Magdum for preserving the “very valuable archival material”.
“…Still about 11000 cans of negatives are remaining in the film library in this office. It’s to state that these films are lying without air-conditioning and humidity control as Films Division does not have any proper storage facility. It’s important to mention that these negatives are very valuable and
require proper preservation in specific conditions (of temperature and humidity),” Pathrabe wrote.
FD Director-General Smita Vats Sharma, who took charge recently, could not be contacted for comment as she is on tour abroad. Responding on her behalf, Anil Kumar N, officer-in-charge for distribution at Films Division, said: “Films Division gives utmost priority to the preservation and upkeep of its filmic material. All the valuable picture negatives are preserved in NFAI vaults. The remaining materials are being segregated and shifted to a place with air-conditioning and humidity control in the Phase II building of FD till film vaults are made available by NFAI.”
K L Senapati, Director (Administration), FD, said: “After the ninth floor was vacated for CBFC three years ago, these cans have been kept in their current place. We have contacted NFAI to take them but they too are helpless due to shortage of space.”
According to Senapati, “most of this material has been digitised”. However, experts say celluloid holds immense archival value even after digitisation.
Santosh Ajmera, officer on special duty at NFAI who heads the National Film Heritage Mission, says the NFAI plans to construct new state-of-the-art storage facilities at a three-acre plot near its Kothrud premises that was recently acquired from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).
Once the work is completed, there would be enough space available to safeguard not only Films Division material but also material from different sources and film labs,” said Ajmera.
NFAI officials say they are now planning to hire private facilities to store reels received from other agencies — a proposal has been sent to I&B Ministry.
Responding to an RTI query on the documentaries in the cans stored in the corridors, FD officials said they were in the process of compiling a digital list.
Subsequently, The Indian Express received the names of 50 documentaries whose “master positives” are stored in the corridors, including “I am 20” (1967), directed by S N S Sastry and produced by FD’s then chief producer Jean Bhownagary.
The documentary, which was recently posted on YouTube by FD, contains interviews of several young men and women who were born in 1947 about India as a nation, its present and future.
The list also includes “Mandu: The City of Joy (1957)” about the ancient capital of the Malwa kingdom in western MP; “The Grand Old Man of 19th Century” (1967) on the life and works of Jagannath Shankar Seth in building Mumbai as a modern city; and, “Akbar (1967)”, which won the national award for Best Educational and Motivational Film that year.