Kolkata: “Bengali classic films need urgent restoration. They form a formidable part of Indian cinematic culture,“ Jaya Bachhan had stated at Kolkata International Film Festival in 2018 in the presence of Soumitra Chatterjee and Prasenjit Chatterjee. Both agreed with her. Commenting on the issue Soumitra Chatterjee said, “The conditions of countless Bengali films are pathetic. I am skeptical if the classics of Pramathesh Barua, Utham Kumar and even some of my earlier ones can be persevered and restored.”
India produces the maximum number of films in a variety of languages. Many memorable film prints are either lost or badly damaged. The prints used to be in laboratories, the majority of which have shut down. In the past ten years digitalization is the process to make films. Recently Prakash Makdum, Director, National Film Archives of India (NFAI) was in Kolkata. He had said, “I was handed over the prints of Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi (1970), Sonar Kella (1974) and Hirak Rajar Deshe (1982) by Purnima Dutta and the Government of West Bengal. We will preserve and restore them.”
In 2009 Mrinal Sen’s classic Khandahar could not be screened at the Cannes classics section as the print was in bad condition. At the legend’s request, Govind Nihalani personally supervised the preservation and restoration of Khandahar at the film archives. Govind Nihalani recalls, “As a director, cinematographer myself, I admired the use of colors in the film. As a mark of respect for Mrinalda, I restored the print. It was screened at Cannes in 2010.”
There remains a general tendency among producers to neglect the cause of film preservation. Says, eminent director, Tarun Majumdar, “Producers must take the initiatives to restore their home productions. If not films of yore are lost in oblivion. I am very happy that Rajkamal Kalamandir has given all their films including Palatak directed by me to NFA for a new life.”
Goutam Ghosh states, “I am sorry to state that the original negatives of my film Paar are lost as Gemini laboratory has closed. Only a digital print remains which the archives will restore. I am giving all my film prints to the archives for restoration and preservation. They include features and documentaries both.”
Many Satyajit Ray classics have been lucky to be restored by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Criterion. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Director, Film Heritage Foundation with rare efforts discovered a rare print of Uday Shankar’s Kalpana which was restored by Martin Scorsese Foundation in 2013. The restored version was screened at the Cannes classic section the same year.
The big question remains what will happen to prints of films by Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Ajay Kar and Asit Sen. On YouTube the prints of Ajantrik, Baishe Sraban, Khaniker Athithi, Saat Pake Bandha and Uttar Phalguni appear hazy and indistinct. Prints of Bakul, Ankush and even Teen Adhyay are either in bad shape or missing. Even later films directed by the likes of Buddhadeb Das Gupta and Utpatendu Chakraborty are not in good shape.
While Prakash Makdum analyses, “The archive is jointly collaborating with the government of West Bengal and individual producers to collect, preserve and restore memorable Bengali films. These films need a new lease of life to be available to the present generation who are not familiar with them. It is laborious and a time-consuming affair. The costs of restoring black and white and colored films depend on the length of the film, condition of the prints and pristine restoration, frame by frame.”
Bengali films possess a culture and spirit of their own. Gulzar points out, “Bengal the cultural headquarters of India is internationally reputed for evergreen films that have stood the test of time.” Way back Hrishikesh Mukherjee agreed to an average Bengali film of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s or ’70s was aesthetically rich, possessed content and was not burdened with commercial clippings.
Actress Rituparna Sengupta mentions, “If we don’t take efforts to restore our cinematic heritage, who will? Let us give serious thought and apply action to save our earlier glorious cinematic heritage.” The presence of reputed directors and cinematographers preferably of films being made ready with new touches needs to be present during frame-by-frame restoration else there may be technical lacunae in the same work.