We lack a sense of preservation: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

As part of the World Heritage Week, listen to a lecture by filmmaker, archivist and restorer Shivendra Singh Dungarpur who urges India to start saving its 100-year-old cinematic history

Last year’s centenary celebrations of Indian cinema were definitely hard to miss. Yet, much as one wished to celebrate the 100-year-old history of the Indian celluloid with screenings of noted films of yesteryear, one had to make do with only 6,000 films, as that was all the archives at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) offered. In fact, the first talkie of the country, Alam Ara is lost and is without a trace, making it unavailable to posterity.

Film Kalpana that starred Uday Shankar
Still from the restored version of the dance-drama Kalpana that starred Uday Shankar as seen here. Pic Courtesy/Dungarpur Films.

Filmmaker, archivist and restorer, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur shares these and many other disturbing facts about the state of India’s film history that will be included in his lecture Indian Cinema — An Endangered History, as part of the World Heritage Week celebrations at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum today.

Filmmaker and archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur
Filmmaker and archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Dungarpur started out as a film student in Film and Television Institute of India where he got acquainted with PK Nair (founder of NFAI), yet he didn’t give archiving a deeper thought at that point, not yet. Post his graduation, the filmmaker pursued advertising while setting up his own production house, Dungarpur Films.

Kalpana Film
Kalpana written and directed by Uday Shankar is his only film

The preserving instinct
Five years ago then, Dungarpur had his Eureka moment when he read a Martin Scorsese interview that mentioned Il Cinema Ritrovato, a festival of restored films in Italy. After his determined visit to the festival, Dungarpur was inclined in a direction he had not anticipated. “On my return to India, I thought of Nair saab, who did his best to archive the Indian cinema,” he says.

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
Archving and preserving the Indian cinematic history is the need of the hour. Dungarpur informs that films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak don’t have original prints anymore.

Speaking of Nair’s contribution to the Indian film industry, he shares, “Much as NFAI has contributed to the preservation of Indian cinema, it was only set up in 1964; making it 50 years late (the earliest Indian film was made in 1913). By 1950, 70-80% of our heritage was already lost. So, if it weren’t for PK Nair, believe it or not, India would have never heard of Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema.” It comes as no surprise then that Dungarpur’s feature-length documentary Celluloid Man, chronicles Nair’s efforts and thus, has been hailed by many.

Archving and preserving the Indian cinematic history is the need of the hour. Dungarpur informs that films like Maachis don’t have original prints anymore.

No sense of history
Concerned about the dismal state of preservation of Indian cinema, he shares that about 1,700 films are made in a year in India, of which only five or six are preserved. “We lack a sense of preservation. The film is not considered as an art form. When films in India started getting made, we were under colonial rule. Since then, archiving films wasn’t developed as a practice,” he relates. Even in the recent few decades, archiving hasn’t assumed relevance. Be it Gulzar’s film Maachis or Aamir Khan’s debut Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, original prints of both are unavailable.

Building an archive
Dungarpur has invested himself in restoration, since 2009, which has included restoring dancer Uday Shankar’s film, Kalpana with the World Cinema Foundation headed by Martin Scorsese. Dungarpur has further worked on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger and Nidhanaya, a Sinhalese film. He recently set up the Film Preservation and Restoration School in India, where cineastes can join him and be trained by the Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation in February 2015.

On: Today, 5.30 pm
At: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Byculla (E).
Call: 23731234

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