It’s a love affair that began in 1913, with India’s first full-length feature film — the silent epic Raja Harishchandra — released to general amazement. Then, in 1931, came sound, and India’s first talkie, Alam Ara, the love story of a prince.
Through the following century, films have shaped and recorded India’s cultural and social ethos.
Now, to celebrate the centenary year of Indian cinema, an online film archive of annotated material — called Indiancine.ma — is being created by members of Mumbai-based artist collective CAMP (Critical Art and Media Practices), in collaboration with an artist from Berlin-based collective 0x2620 and members of Alternative Law Forum (ALF), a Bangalore-based collective of lawyers and activists.
“We are all cinephiles interested in using technology to get our heritage into the public domain,” says Lawrence Liang, co-founder, ALF.
The group began working on the project in 2010 and the archive is expected to be ready by December.
In the archive are Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Telugu, Urdu, Farsi and Gujarati films for which copyright has lapsed (those made before 1953), clips of films made after this date, research and scholarly material, articles and songs and lyrics from films made between the early 20th century and 2000.
The archive is searchable and viewable, with clips free to download for non-commercial use.
“The idea was to create a domain of contemporary knowledge, without which our perception of heritage becomes out of relevance,” says Shaina Anand, 38, co-founder of CAMP.
In the archive are copies of films such as Dadasaheb Phalke’s Kaliya Mardan (1919), and films by hallmark production houses such as Bombay Talkies and Wadia Movietone.”
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Indiancine.ma is also working with independent initiatives such as one by the film studies department of the University of Jadavpur, Kolkata, on the history of early Bengali cinema.
The Indiancine.ma team has also given out 10 scholarships to students, and researchers for research. For the work-in-progress archive, the initial attempt will be to archive prints based on film scholars Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen’s Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, which lists 25,000 films created between 1913 and 1989.
The digitised versions of these films are being sought from individual filmmakers, the National Film Archive of India, Film Division of India, state archives and private collections.
This project follows the creation by the same group of Pad.ma, in 2008. That online archive offers access to unused footage from documentaries and films material. Last April, members of Pad.ma were invited by Documenta 13, an art festival held in Germany, to work on the Afghan National Film Archive in Kabul.
Currently, Indiancine.ma is not funded. Pad.ma, gets funding from the New York-based Foundation for Arts Initiatives and Bohen Foundation.
“We believe Indiancine.ma should get funds from within India, particularly the film industry, government and cultural organisations,” says Anand of CAMP.
“To create the archive we want to create, we would need about $1 million — not an impossible sum for a multi-billion-dollar film industry.”
The group is now working with online cultural encyclopedia Sahapedia to seek funding from the IB ministry. The ministry was not available for comment.