‘Save film heritage from perishing’

By Arpana


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New Delhi : India is celebrating 60 years of independence and in these last six decades our cinema has come a long way. But the flourishing film industry remains ignorant about the importance of film preservation. The result: original prints of a landmark film like “Sparsh” have perished.

“We don’t have a print of ‘Sparsh’ in our archives. I assume the film’s negatives are lost,” S.K. Sasidharan, director National Film Archive of India (NFAI), told IANS over the phone from Pune.

Produced by Basu Bhatacharya and directed by Sai Paranjpye, “Sparsh” is a love story that revolves around the complex relationship between a blind school principal and an activist. Made in 1979, the film was Paranjpye’s first feature film and is considered a masterpiece.

When asked about the film, Paranjpye said: “I really don’t know what happened to the print because the producers kept it under wraps. I didn’t have a great experience working with the producers. But I know that it’s just not available.”

The director also has classics like “Chashme Buddoor” and “Katha” to her credit.

As cinema is a fragile art form, original prints need to be protected as cultural treasures of our times. To create such awareness among upcoming filmmakers, the Thomson Foundation has introduced a yearly short-term educational programme at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

The foundation aims to highlight that cinema is a vivid representation of art, a tremendous source of inspiration that has a great effect on memory.

It is doing this in collaboration with NFAI and key archive institutions such as the George Eastman House (USA) and La Cinémathèque Française (France).

“The whole idea of the course came from Thomson and it was done with the view to sensitise future filmmakers to the importance of preservation. Students need to understand the fragile nature of films.

“But you cannot teach film preservation in four days. It is a very time consuming process involving technical knowhow. But the course will surely create awareness among filmmakers,” said Sasidharan.

The number of films produced in a year is increasing rapidly, but so far no significant measures have been taken by filmmakers to ensure that their films are preserved. This is mainly because most are not aware of the problem.

Commenting upon the course, Paranjpye said: “I think it’s a boon. I’m afraid we are not so enlightened about film preservation. But now that you have asked me about ‘Sparsh’, I will take my film ‘Disha’ to the national archives. The film has been screened at 17 film festivals.”

NFAI is perhaps the largest film storage house in the country but due to practical problems it is unable to take care of all the films produced.

“We are able to deal with only 25 to 30 percent of the total production of films because we have certain constrains. You need manpower, you need infrastructure and we don’t have adequate resources. Almost 74 percent of the films are lying unattended in laboratories or godowns,” said Sasidharan.

However, in its second phase NFAI, which currently stores 16,000 films, is going to open up another archiving centre in Pune.

“People engaged in building the centre have told me that in another three months it will be operational. We will focus on the preservation of colour films here. Temperature and humidity have to be kept at very low levels to protect colour prints,” said Sasidharan.

Not all filmmakers are solely dependent on NFAI. Some new age producers have made personal arrangements to ensure longevity.

“The negatives of our films and TV programmes are stored in the labs where the films are processed. We also digitise them and save them on the hard disc or we convert them into a high definition file and store them,” said a source from UTV the producers of “Rang De Basanti.”

But such cases are few and far between and the fact is that film preservation is not a well-known art. Many get confused between preservation and restoration.

Technically they are two different things.

Restoration means returning the film to a version most faithful to its initial release and often involves combining various fragments of film elements.

Preservation usually refers to physical storage of the film in a climate-controlled vault, and sometimes to repairing and copying the actual film element.

The main problems in restoring a film are dirt, dust, scratches, colour fading and colour change.

“Film is a very vulnerable material. In India, because of the tropical climate, it is facing the problem of disintegration,” said Shashidharan.

The Thomson Foundation, formed in 2006, has not only introduced the course in India, it has chosen to support film and TV heritage safeguard programmes worldwide through skills and resource exchanges and by setting up multi-disciplinary teams. It has gathered worldwide competencies in Cambodia, France and USA.