The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) took up the mammoth task of restoring 80 of its films and releasing them on DVDs two years ago. Now, 17 classics, including Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Mirch Masala and Ghaire Baire, are available in stores. Nina Lath Gupta, Managing director of NFDC explains the intricacies of the process and shares the body's future plans
What is the restoration process undertaken by the NFDC?
The NFDC has the finest catalogue of films in the country. We realised that a lot of negatives were in a state of deterioration, so we wanted to restore the movies in a digital format. The aim was to restore 80 films within a span of two years. As of now, we have digitally restored 17 movies and released them under the home video label, ‘Cinemas of India’ on DVDs for the public. These include classics such as Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Dharavi, Mirch Masala, Party, Ek Hota Vidushak, Duvidha and so on. The DVDs are priced at Rs 199 each.
Why is the restoration of a film essential?
A film negative is a perishable product. The restoration of a film is essential mainly for two reasons. Firstly, we don’t have facilities in India to preserve the negative. And secondly, the climactic conditions are not conducive for it to sustain for a long time. Abroad, the master negative is usually safe, as multiple negatives of it are made. So the master negative is not accessed as much. In India, we strike prints directly from the master negative. This repeated use of the negative ruins it over a period of time. We can’t follow the same process as they do abroad, since it is expensive.
How does the process work?
Restoration essentially means taking the film to its original state when it was first made. We start off by identifying the source material. We pick it up from a negative. Then we digitally scan it and, later, we colour correct it frame by frame. We usually ask the director and the director of photography (DOP) to be involved in the restoration process. For instance, while restoring Party, we sought the help of Govind Nihalani. In case the director and the DOP of the concerned film were no longer alive, for instance for Satyajit Ray’s movies, we sought the assistance of filmmaker AK Bir, who oversaw the process. For sound process, we used the expertise of award-winning sound engineer Nakul Kamte.
Was there any criterion while choosing the films for restoration?
We wanted to disseminate the film culture. So we first picked up those movies that were in public memory. However, having said that, we want to promote all kinds of cinema — right from Adishankaracharya, the first film in Sanskrit, to the most popular Hindi movie.
What challenges did you face?
The challenge was different for each film. For instance, when we decided to restore Ray’s Teen Kanya, we realised that there was no source material available in India. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts had restored it in the 1980s. So we asked them for a copy. But when we got it, we realised that there was scope for further restoration, so we repeated the process.
In the case of Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali, there was a green line running through some frames as the negative had curled up. It was one of the earliest films to go in for restoration and took the maximum time. Then in Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, the Mahabharata sequence towards the climax was in pink, as light had crept into the negative. So it took us a lot of time to colour correct it. During this entire exercise, we learnt that colour correction is a huge challenge.
With the advent of the digital domain, is restoration still important?
The digital domain has become powerful and is constantly evolving. First we had floppy disks, then we had CDs, DVDs and now we have the hard drive. The negative can be restored in whatever form you have. But there is a possibility that the hard drive can disappear or crash. Also in the future, we might use some other kind of storage device rather than the hard drive. Today, thanks to YouTube and other sites, filmmakers can put up their films directly on these sites and they will be there for posterity. But what about the earlier movies? In such cases, restoration becomes important.
What are NFDC’s future plans?
The NFDC will be the executing agency of the National Film Heritage Mission that will be launched under the aegis of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting from April. As part of this programme, we will put together the film heritage of India, collect all kinds of audio-visual documentation and motion pictures and restore them within a span of five years.