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Death of the classics- Cinema express

Death of the classics

Indian classics are disappearing, for want of preservation and restoration. One city-based workshop, however, hopes to change this...

Published: 01st August 2017

India may have produced over 1,500 silent films, but only 15 of them remain. Over the years, we have failed to preserve those films, and according to Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Founder, Film Heritage Foundation, who was in Chennai to launch the annual Film Preservation and Restoration workshop in October, “this is just not on.” This year, the workshop talks about the repairment of damaged and decayed celluloid films, the restoration and preservation of posters, lobby cards, song booklets, and photographs.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Founder, Film Heritage Foundation

An award-winning filmmaker, producer, and film archivist, Dungarpur says the history of Indian cinema before 1913 is fragmentary, but no less interesting. "We can't watch those classics today. Studies, in fact, suggest that 80 per cent of them (made before 1950) don't even exist anymore, and this includes the most celebrated 1931 film, Alam Ara," he says.

Heritage is a word generally associated with academicians and researchers, amd Dungarpur wants to change this. "We need to involve everyone, including the student community. And this workshop tries to achieve that. Previously, we have organised it in Mumbai and Pune, and the response has always been overwhelming. This is the first time we're conducting it in Chennai, and it’s free of cost. It is high time we created awareness about the need to save India's cinematic heritage," he says.

Actors/filmmakers speak:

Kamal Haasan

I am happy and proud to know that the Film Heritage Foundation has decided to come to Chennai to organise a workshop on film archiving. I’ve seen them do it in Pune, and I was moved. The film industry should come forward to conserve, save and keep our film heritage intact. This important workshop is going to create future archivists. It’s for those interested in cinema itself, not just of of the cinema of today but of yesterday too.

While many old films have recently been restored and re-released recently, Dungarpur takes pains to explain that restoration isn’t the same as preservation. “If we don’t preserve our films, there will be nothing to restore,” he says. “But when stored properly, celluloid films can survive up to a hundred years.” Restoration, meanwhile, is a painful process, he says. “It can take months. It’s a layered process that begins with a lot of ground work from the director, cinematographer, and other key people. We need the original camera print before we can scan or digitally restore it,” he explains.

Actors/filmmakers speak:

Shylaja Chetlur of the Chennai film club, Cinema Rendezvous

We couldn't get a proper, good quality original disc of Pudupettai when we had its cinematographer as a special invitee for one of our screenings. He didn't have a copy either. What the producers could manage wasn't as good as some of the torrent downloads our members found, which is highly unfortunate. An academic culture with cinema should develop along with the mass culture of mainstream appeal.

Some of the old films that have been restored recently include Shyam Benegal’s Junoon and Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool. “Despite the iconic legacy and diversity in the film industry, there's only one main film archive in our country - the National Film Archive of India - which preserves films. We need more associations to support this cause," he says.

Actors/filmmakers speak:

Director Vasanth Sai

Indians don't have a sense of history, and I am sorry about it. Tamilians, in particular, are terrible. We don’t appreciate our past, our legacy. We should stop thinking what we will do with the preserved films. I remember K Balachander saying, "Ennoda padam negative-laam labs la safe-a iruku." But now, where are these labs? Can someone make another Thanner Thaneer? Has anyone documented the work of B. R. Panthulu? Without him, there's no cinema, no business. Baahubali couldn’t have happened without him. He was a genius. But where’s his work?

World Cinema Project, founded by Martin Scorsese, is a non-profit organisation devoted to the pursuit of such work. One of the first Asian films to be restored by the organisation is Uday Shankar's Kalpana (1948).

"Ever since the screening of that classic at the Cannes festival in 2009, we were inspired to reconstruct a number of films and archive them digitally,” says Dungarpur, who points out that Hollywood realised the importance of this process way back in the 90’s. “Big studios there have their own archives supported by man power and technology, which give them a better result. World classics are coming back to life. Slowly, they're being released theatrically, digitally and are also brought out on DVD and Blu-ray.”

Viacom18 is partnering with Dungarpur towards this cause. Sudhanshu Vats, Group Chief Executive, Viacom18 Media, laments that in a land of storytellers, not much is being done in terms of restoration. “It is a highly specialised field. We have very limited, under-skilled man power to do this seriously. So, our aim is to spread awareness and hope that some see this as a possible career option. Following the workshop, we will take courses to train candidates in this field."

Dungarpur understands that the workshop isn’t going to create trained archivists immediately. “But we need to start somewhere. With each day, we are losing our films."

The workshop is open to applicants from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and will be conducted in Prasad Studios from October 7 to 14.. For more details, log on to: www.filmheritagefoundation.co.in

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