Khandahar, much like its name, was in ruins, as hundreds of other Indian movies are, shockingly many of them in the National Film Archive of India at Pune. I have seen them myself there rotting away with little care or concern when I used to visit the Archive for my research into a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, to be published in July by Penguin.
So, it came as a surprise to me that the Archive, meant to preserve and protect the nation’s glorious cinema heritage, was now into a programme of restoring old and priceless movies. Khandahar, is one that has risen like the Phoenix – not from the ashes, but from the ruins. It has been remastered by Reliance MediaWorks, which operates one of the world’s largest restoration facilities.
For all those film buffs and fans of Sen who had assembled at the theatre last night, Khandahar, could not have come as a better classic. When Sen himself, all of 87 years, walked somewhat unsteadily into the auditorium, a hush fell.
Yet, a strong sense of excitement was palpable even in Thierry Fremaux, the Festival’s key man, who introduced Sen to the audience. The master himself was overwhelmed by a nearly packed auditorium that gave him a long standing ovation both at the start and the end of the event, and he said he was happy there was such a large following for Indian cinema. “I had forgotten all about Khandahar till this evening”, he averred.
Khandahar is pure auteur fare that narrates the story of a city photographer (played rivetingly by Naseeruddin Shah), who goes along with two of his friends to a village in ruins. There he meets a blind, dying woman and her lovely young daughter (Shabana Azmi). The mother is waiting for a man who had promised to marry her daughter, but the younger woman, the photographer and his friends all know that it will not happen. For, the man had broken his promise and married someone else. Shah’s Subash impersonates the man, and peace descends on the mother. But playing this little game, though reluctantly, the photographer falls in love with the young girl, his camera lens playing cupid for them.
The original print of Khandahar had scratches, dirt and image warps. The audio was impaired with various anomalies following years of deterioration. The Reliance team repaired it to make it unbelievable new. The visuals are now sharper and consistent, and the audio is clear. The movie seemed perfect in every sense, except for Gita Sen’s (Mrinal’s wife, who essays the mother) awful Hindi diction. Which stands out like a sore thumb especially with an array of such brilliant performers like Shah, Azmi and Pankaj Kapur.
Another restored masterpiece to be screened at Cannes Classics will be Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho. Universal has partnered with France-based postproduction sound master, Audionamix, to bring the film here. The sound and images have been totally remastered to give moviegoers a 2010 experience for a 1960 film.
Audionamix turned the original mono sound into surround sound to create a full theatrical musical experience. When Hitchcock shot the shower scene, he had not envisioned any music at all -- just the action and those famous screams. It was composer Bernard Herrmann who convinced him to add the shrieking violin, viola and cello that have since become legendary. Someone quipped that if you were scared by this scene in 1960, you would be terrified seeing the new version. So, Psycho will cause louder shrieks today.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is at Cannes for the 20th year.)