One step into Shivendra Dungarpur’s office and his passion for movies becomes obvious. The small, cozy entrance is filled with black and white pictures of Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Mala Sinha and other yesteryear stars. A lamp made out of old movie film reels, posters of actors and a library filled with books on films – the man clearly doesn’t have anything else on his mind. He proudly says that he grew up on Chaplin movies that he discussed with his grandfather; an unusual obsession in a boy who belonged to the royal family of Dungarpur, in Rajasthan.
“Films reflect the society in which we live, and they speak a lot about our present day culture, which is why it’s important to save and restore each one of them – whether a bad movie or good one” he says. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that he is now starting the Film Preservation and Restoration School of India, collaborating with The Film Foundation (a non-profit founded by Martin Scorsese), which will work towards bringing about awareness of film preservation across the country.
A workshop that will be held in February 2015 has begin accepting entriesalready, and each participant will have to go through a rigorous selection process in order to attend the week-long film restoration workshop. “I didn’t want to start the workshop with people who don’t even know the meaning of restoration. It’s not like saving the movie on DVD and calling it preserving. Restoring a movie is exactly like restoring the Sistine Chapel, or the Taj Mahal” adds the archivist. Dungarpur stresses on the fact that the preservation of cinema is a work of art,which needs a lot of time and precision.
He compares the nurturing of cinema reels to nurturing a baby. According to him, taking care of a movie is as difficult and time-consuming as taking care of a newborn child. “You have to maintain a certain temperature; you can’t take it out in too much heat. They need constant winding and attention to make sure they are fine.”
Imagine not being able to see Balraj Sahni’s amazing performance in Waqt, or Shammi Kapoor screaming “Yaaaahooo!” in the 1961 release Junglee, or not being able to watch Nargis in the Academy award nominee Mother India. It’s only when we realise that we stand to lose our cinematic heritage that we understand the importance of preserving films. “I have been into film preservation for a while now, but earlier it was difficult to raise funds – now, things are changing slowly. We have already lost too much, but I hope that with this course, there will be a cinematic revolution” says Dungarpur. He is undoubtedly referring to the tragic loss of Alam Ara, the first Indian talkie, which has been declared lost as per the National Film Archive of India, in Pune.
For a country that currently produces the largest number of films in the world (over 1700 films a year in 32 languages) our record of film archiving and preservation is abysmal. Out of 1700 silent films made in India, only five or six survive today. It has thus far been left to overseas experts to restore classics like Uday Shankar’s Kalpana (1948) and Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960).
In a Bollywood crazy country, is it really that difficult to raise money to save old fims? Dungarpur is quick to add “We are trying to speak to the film fraternity, lots of big studios and the government as well. These are their movies, and they need to understand the meaning of saving these films.” The fact remains that these very filmmakers and studios have neglected the cause of preservation up until now, and it is to be seen if there will be any support forthcoming, but until then, we can only wish Dungarpur every success.