In 2010, the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) got a request from critic Utpal Bhorjupari, grandson of producer-director Suresh Chandra Goswami, to salvage Goswami’s film Runumi banned by the Assam government in 1952. Luckily, a print was found buried underground in a rusty metal trunk containing 13 reels caked with mud.
After the cleanup and scanning “at 5/6 frames per second,” according to Prashant Pathrabe, director, NFAI, the film is ready for release. “The project took nearly 1,650 man-hours of digital restoration.”
Many films, which would otherwise have been lost, have got a new lease of life due to this initiative. More than 500 films have been restored/digitised between 2009-12. The 20-odd silent films that have been restored include Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra and German-born direcor Franz Osten’s Throw of Dice.
Work on talkies began next. Shyam Benegal’s Ankur, Manthan and Bhumika; Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Ananatram, Kodiyettam, Mukha Kukham, Swamyamvaram; Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome, Ek Din Pratidin; Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik and Bari Theke Paliye were done in successive rounds.
Expenses on each film ranged in between R2 lakh-40 lakh depending on state of disrepair. The fruits of their labour are literally for all to see. “We have exhibited Mrinal Sen’s film Khandhar at Cannes and Glasgow Film Festival, UK and also in India,” said Pathrabe. Here’s to many, many more.