The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will restore Satyajit Ray's Bengali classic Kanchenjungha, his first colour film, whose original negative was damaged beyond repair.
"The Academy will have to do with the copy of the master negative of the film, made by the maestro in 1962, as the original negative was destroyed due to mishandling," Sandip Ray, son of the film colossus whose 16th death anniversary would be observed on April 23, told PTI.
The film is about an upper class Bengali family, who converse in a sprinkling of English and Bengali, on vacation in the popular hill resort of Darjeeling, near Kanchenjunga, and their relationship.
Stating that the Academy, with which he is in touch, would have to digitally restore the film from the copy, Sandip said, "the entire process is likely to take several months as they are also looking for the best available technology which is fast changing."
He said the master negative of the film, starring one of the Bengali film doyens Chhabi Biswas, was damaged beyond repair as the canned stock was kept exposed to the sun and rain on the roof of a film laboratory in Mumbai.
"This happened as the producers probably lost interest since the film did not bring the expected box office returns and the storage fee was not given to the lab," he said.
The film's titles show the NCA as the production company while Harrison Pictures were the Indian distributors.
"In the absence of the original negative, they had to scour other sources and procured another negative, copied from the original lying with the Pune Film archives," Sandip said.
"While the existing versions of the film were copied from the copy of the negative, they could not reproduce the typical tonal quality of the work so lovingly captured by my father. The restoration by the Academy will hopefully take care of that and help in preserving it for future generations," he said.
Besides Kanchenjungha, the Academy will also take up restoration of 'Sikkim', Ray's documentary made in 1971 on the erstwhile princely state commissioned by then ruler Chogyal and his American wife Hope Cook, Sandip said.
The Academy would digitally restore the film, two prints of which were traced a few years ago at the British Film Institute and Brown University, US, Sandip said.
"The print, lying with the BFI, is in good condition and the Academy will use this for the restoration work," Sandip said referring to the little known work of Ray which had been at the receiving end of the Censor following Sikkim's merger with India in 1975.
Believed to be lost for a long time, the print was found in 1997 in the US which was followed by the finding of another print in 2003 at the BFI.
Almost 95 per cent of the black and white films of Ray, who received the lifetime Oscar award days before his death in 1992, have been restored by the Academy, Sandip said.
"While the Academy mostly banked on chemical non-digitalisation process for restoring other films of father to retain the original hue, flavour and tonal quality, the absence of the original negative of Kanchenjunga left them with no alternative but to take recourse to digital means as the chemical process will not yield the desired effect from a secondary source."
Restoration and preservation of Chiriakhana and a documentary on Rabindranath Tagore will also be taken up in due course, Sandip said.
About recent reports of a Mumbai-based firm contemplating to colour Pather Panchali, which was made in 1955 by Ray, Sandip said "classics should be left untouched by such experiments."
Apparently annoyed over the initiative by the firm, which had told a section of media about its move a month ago, he said, "I hope it is a closed chapter. But if there are further developments, which includes seeking the permission of the film's producer, the West Bengal government, we will act accordingly."
He said such initiatives were never thought of for classics like Citizen Kane or Battleship Potemkin.
"Is it not the same for Pather Panchali?"
Sandip asked referring to the film which created a new era of neo-realism in Indian cinema with its visual appeal enhanced by black and white imagery.