From Paris 1924 to Paris 2024: Tracking the spirit of Olympic heroes frame by frame
In partnership with the Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland, Dungarpur is presenting 33 films and 10 series at the NCPA in the coming week. Titled ‘Olympics in Reel Life — A Festival of Films and Photographs’, the weeklong film marathon will be accompanied by photographs of Indians at the Olympics and athletes at the grassroots
MUMBAI In Los Angeles 1984, when PT Usha ran at the Olympics, there were only two Indian cheerleaders in the stadium; one of them was actor Amitabh Bachchan. “That was what India was that time,” says Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, director, Film Heritage Foundation. “And, look how far we have come today. You see the number of Indians at sporting events. That is why showing the whole history is so important.”
In partnership with the Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland, Dungarpur is presenting 33 films and 10 series at the NCPA in the coming week. Titled ‘Olympics in Reel Life — A Festival of Films and Photographs’, the weeklong film marathon will be accompanied by photographs of Indians at the Olympics and athletes at the grassroots. The festival features a healthy mix of archival and current works: the oldest is a restored film from Stockholm 1912, while the newest are shorts on the inclusion of skateboarding and breaking in Tokyo and Paris respectively. Documentaries on Gagan Narang and Manu Bhaker (shooting), Bajrang Punia (wrestling), Manika Batra (TT), Rani Rampal (hockey), Lovlina Borgohain (boxing) and others dot the line-up. As do works of acclaimed film-makers such as Carlos Saura, Milos Forman, Kon Ichikawa and Leni Riefenstahl, with Riefenstahl’s ‘Olympia’ (Berlin 1936) being a festival highlight.
“Riefenstahl’s ‘Olympia’ is the most amazing experience,” says Dungarpur. “When masters make these films, you sense that even in reality, there is so much fiction.” As his foundation is actively involved in restoring Indian films (‘Thampu’, ‘Ishanou’) and as someone who famously buys archival reels from Chor Bazaar by the kilo, the century-old Olympic films were a good fit for Dungarpur. “I told them I would be interested if they can trace the history of Indians at the Olympics. When they agreed, I knew it was an amazing opportunity for sports to become integrated into our cultural edifice. I went to the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) and asked them, ‘Can you give me 20 spaces around Mumbai, such as Marine Drive or Shivaji Park, where I can put out these images?’”
With steady support from Ashwini Bhide, additional municipal commissioner, Dungarpur expanded the outreach to include children as well. “Students from 1200 BMC schools are going to be shown the films,” he says. “It’s important for them to understand that Neeraj Chopra, Mary Kom, PT Usha, or any of the other great Olympians have all come from very humble backgrounds. We want them to understand that the Olympics isn’t just about winning, but about becoming a good person.”
The goal ahead
Part of this veritable treasure trove are never-before-seen clips of Indian hockey from 1948, 1952 and 1964. “When I spoke to MM Somaya (gold, hockey, Moscow 1980) about it, he said, ‘Really? You have that footage?’” says Dungarpur. “People haven’t seen Milkha (Singh) before the race and Milkha after the race. But, that is where the human side comes in. When I saw the hockey clips, I was reminded of cricket when it was played with uncovered wickets and pitches. Dhanraj Pillay once told me that the hockey team used to travel by train. So, these films will create respect for those who participated in these games under very tough conditions.”
Badminton player and two-time Olympian (2000, 2004) Aparna Popat says, “Growing up, and when I played the Olympics, I didn’t have access to this footage or history. I didn’t have this information and inspiration. With the internet, so much more is available today. In a country like ours, where we are aspiring to become a sporting superpower, where we are getting our act together in terms of performance, Indians are doing well at international events. So, this is a very timely festival that can actually bring in the flavour of the Olympics. We look at the medal tally and that’s the end of it. But, it is so much more than that. Because there are many stories, journeys, moments, that can actually come alive.”
One such story is the athletes currently supported by the Bindra Foundation in Odisha. For a photo series called ‘Olympism Made Visible’, 12 photographers were sent to places such as Cambodia and Jordan to shoot the spirit of the Olympics among local athletes. Poulomi Basu, who covered Odisha, says, “What captivated me the most is the sheer fervour and unwavering dedication radiating from these athletes. When they hear the word ‘Olympics’, their eyes light up with the belief that they can transcend their origins and find their place in the world. Sports, in this context, is a formidable source of empowerment, especially for girls.” Dungarpur echoes this when he says, “When you trace the history of sport through these films and photography, you can almost see a new India emerge.”
‘Olympics in Reel Life’ will run from October 1 to 7 at the NCPA Mumbai.