For a film crazy nation we really don't care much for the classics. Of course, I don't mean that we won't buy DVDs of old favorites like Golmaal (1979) or Mughal-e-Azam (1960) or cue up to see Hum Dono Rangeen (2011) or Naya Daur (1957) in color. That's caring for the packaging and not the meat. If we truly cared about our cinema we'd not let time destroy the negatives of hundreds of our classics.
Across the world influential filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg take the business of preserving films very seriously. It took The Film Foundation, of which Scorsese is the chairman, years to digitally restore Uday Shankar's Kalpana (1948) using a dupe negative and a positive print from the National Film Achieve of India. Believed to be lost forever this film combines various Indian dance forms with western techniques and features a nightmare intertwined with the director's vision for an independent India where artistic expression could flourish. Scorsese's was drawn to this film by Ravi Shankar, Uday's more illustrious brother, and considers Kalpana to be the first modern Indian film. We may not care much about this obscure film made by Uday Shankar, who was more revered in the west than he was ever in his own country, but there are hundreds of films that we love and continue to see them perish forever.
Isn't it shame for the world's biggest film industry that it allows its masterpieces to suffer such fate? It's not like we don't want to preserve our films but like most things this, too, has a different mean in Indian. Here the audience believes in buying an overpriced DVD is good enough to preserve art. You may find it ironical but that's more or less what it takes to save cinema. An incurable cinephile Scorsese started in the same manner. He used to collect a print of the old films that he loved for his personal collection. In 1990 he established The Film Foundation that was dedicated to protecting and saving motion picture history by providing annual support for preservation and restoration projects at leading film archives across the world. The foundation has Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg amongst others on the board and has saved over 545 films in a little over two decades.
While the simple viewer buys a DVD to do his/ her bit what do the big filmmakers do? Nothing. For them remaking many of these films is as good as preserving them! Sajid Khan, Farah Khan, Rohit Shetty and the likes love their cinema so much that they can't even think of anything on their own when it comes to making films. They are inspired by the past to rehash the films they saw as children into some meaningless litter that ends up making more money than the original. They dole out next to nothing to procure the rights of these films, if they feel like, then make millions with their versions and even after that refuse to give out one single paisa to truly honor their inspiration. Forget films from the 1950s or the 1960s but the wildly successful ones from the 1970s like Zanjeer (1973) or Khoon Pasina (1977) and many from 1980s like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983) look like a hundred years old thanks to the decaying negative. It won't take a fraction of what it took to produce a Ra.One (2011) to save a piece of our cinematic history but who's going to bother. Kalpana could inspire a similar process in India for all the films in dire need of being rescued but our bureaucracy will make ensure that organizations like National Film Achieve of India never do what were always meant to.
Films are more of entertainment for millions of Indians but the sadder truth is that many filmmakers, too, don't think otherwise. It's a matter of time before these things of beauty cease to be a joy forever. A film might be forever but the negative that captures that emotion has a life. That life becomes shorter if not cared for properly, something that I'm sure the National Film Archive of India would be a world-leader in…
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
If every action has a reaction shouldn't there be something sensible in the senseless that often pervades our cinema? Split Screen explores the side that often remains in the dark.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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