Movies are the stories we ignore. The new generation of film-goers, who see movies as a boredom-killer for weekends - from their mobile devices to multiplex theatres tend to trivialize the significance of what their eyes are being treated to. Can we even blame them? The content being dished out in the name of cinema often lacks sincere effort and integrity, which shines through the end product served to us every Friday. This is when you wish the film-maker could be reminded of the long legacy of movies he carries forward and to take lessons from the classics of the past. Sadly, in India that is not possible as our cinematic history is either erased or on the verge of extinction.
”Most people are not aware that India has an endangered cinematic legacy. We have lost a colossal amount of our cinematic heritage and continue to lose more every day even--- from recent films dating as late as 1990s. We need to recognise that cinema is an integral part of our social and cultural heritage that must be preserved and restored like any other art form.” says National Award-winning film director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, an argument which is tough to refute.
The use of cellulose nitrate as film base until 1951 was partly responsible for the loss of the erstwhile movies as well. The films were prone to spontaneous combustion and were even highly flammable. In fact, the only surviving copy of India’s first feature film ‘Raja Harischandra’ was lost to fire, forcing Phalke to shoot his entire film again in an incomplete manner. Countless incidents of studio fires over the years have lead to destruction of film reels and original negatives of many of our old movies and films. Few movies like the last print of India’s first film with sound ‘Alam Ara’, were sold for their silver and colour content, leading to their irreparable loss. The general apathy to film preservation, difficult climate for storage and the commercial industry like functioning of cinema has lead to further loss of movies. Recently, an Original Camera Negative of a lost and forgotten Guru Dutt film was discovered by a scrap dealer, a result of the dumping of negatives by the defunct film labs.
The cause of film preservation is one which many countries struggle with, but few take any serious initiative in. Thespian film-maker and cinema lover Martin Scorsese launched Film Foundation in 1990 with the goal of restoring and rediscovering the movies we have lost over the years. The passionate love for movies, old and new, has helped restore many American and world classics and he is now helping India rediscover its film history, too.
Martin Scorsese shooting a lost, incomplete Alfred Hitchcock script as a homage to the ‘Psycho’ maker.
The Film Heritage Foundation is an initiative by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur alongwith film thespians Gulzar, Shyam Benegal and others to respond to the urgent need of restoring India’s Cinematic Heritage. The Foundation has collaborated with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, Cineteca di Bologna, L’Immagine Ritrovata and the International Federation of Film Archives(FIAF) to offer a week-long course on film reservation film preservation and restoration at Film Division India, Mumbai from 22nd February, 2015. The pre-registered participants from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka will be offered lectures, presentations and practical classes on film preservation and restoration by experts in the field along with a daily screening of a restored classic, preceded by an introductory talk on the restoration.
Martin Scorsese talks about Film Heritage Foundation India
Film Heritage Foundation marks a start in the long journey of rediscovering India’s cinematic past and glory, much of what was responsible in creating the world’s largest producers of moving images today. The long journey stems from the fact that such large number of well-known or little known movies have been lost - from India’s first Shakespearean adaptation of Hamlet titled ‘Khoon Ka Khoon’ to even the Original Camera Negative, the starting point of a film, of Guru Dutt’s classic Pyaasa. As Shivendra says, “For me our films are the cultural heritage many of us have grown up on. We can’t let history get away from us.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Words: Devang Pathak