Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Preservationist

During my two-year tenure with Indian Auteur, I had the privilege of conducting an interview with various significant figures of Indian independent film. These included filmmakers Umesh Kulkarni, Tariq Tapa, Kamal Swaroop et cetera and film critics Baradwaj Rangan, Raja Sen, Pratim D. Gupta (as part of the Critic Symposium) - most essential of these, however, was a two-to-one I had (alongwith Projectorhead editor Gautam Valluri) with one of the instrumental figures of the Indian film industry, the former Director of the National Film Archive of India,  late Mr. Vijay Jadhav. Rather self-effacing and thoroughly proud of the efforts made by his organisation in the preservation of the national film legacy, following is the transcript of the interview conducted on the sidelines of the IFFI 2010:

You said in a press conference that out of the 43000 feature films that have been made in this country since the dawn of cinema, only 5000 have been preserved. What do you believe justifies this callous attitude towards our film heritage?
The tendency to preserve is not inherent in our culture. There is a clear lack of initiative in the field of archiving. There is also a lack of a proper series of steps being taken by the established authorities to educate the young generation of film lovers, or even the current members of the film fraternity.

Do you believe that this lackadaisical attitude also stems from a disinterest from a commercial standpoint in the preservation and later, exhibition, of these films?
I believe that these films, once released, will definitely find a commercial audience. There is an also a sustained effort from our side (NFAI) to upgrade these films to more updated formats – for instance, the present edition of IFFI features an exhibition of 5 obscure Indian films – including Rojulu MarayiMarthanda Varma, Ashok Kumar and Parwana, in their blu-ray versions.

So there is an audience out there. And you have updated films to contemporary formats. Will we see them commercially releasing anytime soon then?
No. Because currently, there are too many glitches in the process to allow one of these old films to release in theatres smoothly. NFAI only preserves these films. We do not hold the copyright to them. The copyright is still held by the producers of the film, and even if we were to enter a profit-sharing partnership with them, the process itself is ridden with just too many roadblocks. Most of them are third-generation inheritors of a film that was made, say, in the 1940s, and while they are ready to let go of a film, they refuse to let go of a legacy.

NFAI remains an agency under the direct purview of the government. Does its loyalty to the government ever extend to the list of films it chooses to preserve? Say, for instance, a politically controversial film like Satyajit Ray’s Sikkim. It was banned by the state Government. Would NFAI preserve it despite the governmental cold-shoulder to it?
NFAI does not make its choices based on any political agenda. It is a film, regardless. For instance, we have preserved an Assamese film called Runumi which was banned right upon its release in 1953. Its one single copy exists with us, in its preserved state.

NFAI is also involved in the digitization of its 30,000 strong book library, as well as its script bank. What other objects constitute the legacy of film?

Posters, ofcourse. How many posters has the NFAI preserved till now?
Around 4 lakh of them.

That is an enormous amount. What is the process involved in the preservation of a film poster?
Most of these posters are painted on a paper. And paper is a material that easily decays. Essentially, we employ a method that removes all the moisture content from the surface of the paper. The paper poster is first mounted on a de-acidified banana leaf paper with an organic adhesive. We then use vacuum to extract all the moisture from the surface of the poster. This process ensures that a poster can be preserved for the next 100 years.

And this vast bank of materials present with the Archive, is it easily accessible to the common public?
It wasn’t, until a two years ago. But now we are taking these films and these posters to the smaller centres. We are organizing exhibitions in backwater towns like Patna, or Guwahati or even Yamuna Nagar, as part of the Film Heritage Mission. It’s a collective heritage. It has to be seen.

(The interview is available also, I believe, on Indian Auteur. Information about the man and the efforts of his organisation deserves wider dissemination/publication on more platforms.) 

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