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The Film Material That Comes To NFAI Is Often Not In Good Condition – Prakash Magdum, Director NFAI

Abhishek Srivastava - 62 weeks ago

A fire episode in 2003, at NFAI, engulfed film vaults and destroyed many reels of historical importance. As per a report published on the site of Film Heritage Foundation, 90 % of silent films are now lost forever. The Film Hashery decided to take stock of the situation vis-a-vis films and decided to speak to Prakash Magdum, director NFAI.

(Filmmaker Sriram Raghavan visited NFAI's vaults in December last year (Image courtesy - Prakash Magdum's facebook page)

A report, published in a Mumbai tabloid recently, exposed the loss of footages of historical importance at Doordarshan. The footages which have either been erased or lost include a prized conversation between Satyajit Ray and Marlon Brando chaired by film critic Amita Malik, a joint interview featuring Elia Kazan, Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray and Sai Paranjpye’s documentary on Captain Lakshmi Sehgal and music composer Pankaj Mullick among others. While the abovementioned relate to lacunae in Doordarshan’s archive, preservation of films have fared no better. A fire episode in 2003 at NFAI engulfed film vaults and destroyed many reels of historical importance. As per a report published on the site of Film Heritage Foundation, 90 % of silent films are now lost forever. The report also states that when films entered the sound era, roughly 250 films were made between 1931 and 1941 and today only 15 exist. The same site also features a list of ten films, complied by none other than PK Nair, which are now lost forever. The films include Alam Ara (the first Indian talkie film), Sairandhri (the first colored film of India), Zindagi (the highest grossing film of 40s) and Seeta (featuring Prithviraj Kapoor and Durga Khote). The Film Hashery decided to take stock of the situation vis-a-vis films and decided to speak to Prakash Magdum, director of India’s premier center for archival and restoration of films - National Film Archive of India. In a freewheeling conversation, Prakash Magdum talked on the fire episode of 2003, RK Studio films and National Film Heritage Mission and also gave the heartening news that films of Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt are safe in the vaults of NFAI.

(Filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra donated the reel of Rang De Basanti to NFAI last month (Image courtesy -Prakash Magdum's facebook page)

What corrective measures have been taken by NFAI after the fire of 2003 which engulfed film vaults and destroyed many reels?

We have undertaken a complete re-vamping of the storage system at NFAI. It includes new 24x7 air-conditioning system with back-up. The fire-fighting system has also been put in place. We are constantly reviewing the storage environment for its optimal utilisation. We have been in touch with some of the leading film archives of the world so as to adapt the best practices being followed. The inputs of international experts have also been taken in this regard and are being implemented.

An audit was carried out by the Director General of Audit few years back and they discovered that NFAI may have lost or damaged 31263 reels over the years. How true is their claim?

During 2011-13, pasting of the barcode stickers was done on film cans. This was done on film cans which were technically clear in all respects. This activity was not done on all film cans. The report by CAG didn’t take into account this fact. Therefore, it was assumed that the tally in the register was not matching with film cans.

Randhir Kapoor handed over reels of RK Studio films after the fire episode to NFAI. The inspection revealed that most of the films were in urgent need of repair? What corrective measures have NFAI taken in this regard?

Acquiring original negatives of landmark RK films was indeed a major boost for us. Upon receiving the material, it was examined by film checkers. It was found that few of the negatives out of 21 had some issues in terms of condition of sound. We have already done copying of many of the negatives in terms of releasing positive prints. Kindly note that we already had many of these film prints in good condition in our collection. The reels having issues are being treated as part of film condition assessment and preventive conservation methods.

(After the fire that gutted RK Studio, all reels of RK Studio inventory were donated to NFAI for future preservation (Image courtesy -Prakash Magdum's facebook page)

It happens very often that when a news breaks which relates to loss or damage of a print of a particular film, people waste no time in pointing fingers at NFAI. Do you think its justified or people should avoid jumping to conclusion?

It should be kept in mind that the film material that comes to NFAI is often not in good condition. Film is a chemical material and to preserve it, cool and dry atmosphere is required. In a tropical climate like India where the awareness about film preservation is very low, often the owners of the material keep the content in not so ideal conditions. Once it starts decaying, the only option is to stop the decay. Once such material comes under the roof of NFAI, we try our best to preserve the same. We also try to keep at least two copies of important films so that at least one copy is kept as preservation copy.

We witnessed a lot of work at NFAI during your tenure - the seeds of which were sown during the tenure of PK Nair. Could you please elaborate on the new techniques that NFAI has adopted as part of preservation of films?

For the first time, we have undertaken a massive exercise of film condition assessment of the entire NFAI collection. Each and every reel is taken out and checked for its condition and quality. It will then be categorised as per that. For the first time, we are in the process of cataloguing the entire collection so that entire metadata is available for researchers. As mentioned earlier, the complete re-vamping of air conditioning system of storage facility is being done. We are also in the process of adding new storage facilities that will take care of both celluloid and born-digital material preservation. We are also talking with state governments so that they can have their own archives for which NFAI will provide technical support.

Could you please help us know the status on films of stalwarts like Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Satyajit Ray.

We have most of the films of these stalwarts in our collection. Some of the titles are in fact in multiple copies. Many of these titles have been digitised and restored by us. You can have a look at our website www.nfai.gov.in for the complete list of digitised and restored films by NFAI.

(Music composer Anandji of Kalyanji-Anandji duo has provided film material from his personal collection for preservation at NFAI (Image courtesy - Prakash Magdum's facebook page)

The entire exercise of restoration and preservation of films is a tedious process to say the least. How does NFAI manage fund for restoration and preservation of films especially when the volume for such films is increasing with every passing day?

The government is committed to the cause of film preservation and funds are being regularly provided. In fact, under National Film Heritage Mission, there is a provision of Rs 597.41 crore for assessment, digitisation, restoration and conservation of films in addition to construction of new storage facilities.

Is there any symbiotic relationship between NFAI and Film Heritage Foundation? If yes, please elaborate.

For a country like India, which produces the largest number of films and has at least 5 to 6 major film industries, we need to have a number of archives that can work in the field of film preservation. We always believe in cooperating and supporting as well as working with such institutions towards the cause of film preservation.

Is there any foolproof method to preserve films because Nitrate etc. will always be susceptible to fire or other risks of damage?

Nitrate is an unstable material. If not handled carefully, there could be incidents. But, if you take care of the storage environment as per the best international practices and archival guidelines, the material can be preserved.

(Interviewed by Abhishek Srivastava)

(Few quotes of Prakash Magdum first appeared on Firstpost.com)

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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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