Across traditional and modern mediums of communication one can see innumerable examples of people initiating campaigns, drives and protests to save endangered species; people restoring heritage properties which are of national and cultural significance and efforts of spreading awareness of a lost art form, be it an ancient dance form or a primeval language lost in the sands of time.Film Restoration_Raja Harishchandra_Bollywoodirect_Cinema_Heritage

But one of the most neglected cultural heritage which not only is of historical importance but also of great socio-political significance is the moving image or what we popularly call as Films. A film represents an era, a period in history, time and space and the people who lived then.

Films are those artistic packages that transmit the cultures and history beyond borders. Martin Scorsese was introduced to Satyajit Ray and Indian culture at the age of 15, not personally, but through watching a poor print of Pather Panchali on Channel 9 on a Sunday night in New York in the late 1950s. International Film Festivals, where the world unites to celebrate films, invite film prints for screening from several countries. In India, we are unable to find prints of our classic film Mother India or the works of Bimal Roy which can be screened at international festivals. Recently Guru Dutts classic film Pyaasa was restored and screened at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.

Today, over 90% of films around the world made before 1929 are lost forever. In many regions such as Southeast Asia, heritage films are at risk. Unstable political situations, lack of film archives and training in preservation, climate conditions (humidity and heat control) as well as a lack of awareness are among the most common reasons.

India currently is the largest producer of films in the world. India makes over 1700 films in 32 languages annually.  Around 1,700 silent films were made in India from 1899 to 1931, out of which the National Film Archive of India, Pune has only five or six complete films, and less than a dozen in fragments. Only portions of one of India’s first feature films, Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra (1913), have been preserved because of Nair’s efforts. In PK Nair’s own words “finding them was like going on a wild goose chase”. By 1950, we lost 70-80 percent of the films made in India, including India’s first talkie Alam Ara. Madras’ film industry produced 124 narrative features and 38 documentaries in the silent era, out of which only one, Marthanda Verma (1931), survives today.

We have failed to preserve many of our recently released films too – the original camera negatives of films such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988)Thalapathi (1991)Khamoshi (1996), Maachis (1996), Paanch (2003), or Black Friday (2007) are also not known to exist anymore. 

For more than a century films have played an important role in not only entertaining viewers through the art of visual storytelling but also, and more significantly, educating them about the history of their people, their society and of their country. The only way the younger generation and the future generation can enjoy the old gems of Indian cinema is through awareness and access. That’s where, like our films when the hero makes the grand entry to save the day, Film Restoration & Preservation comes into the picture.

Written By: Sagar Chhatwani– MBA by education, marketer by profession and a student of cinema by passion, Sagar, after working in Times of India & Hindustan Times quit the corporate life to pursue his interest in cinema. His short film ‘Till The End Of Time’ was selected in the best director category and screened at the National Student Film Award & Film Festival Of India at Film & Television Institute of India in 2013. 

Image Courtesy: mirc.sc.edu

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