Project to digitise old film reels sees priceless footage pour out of closet

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Project to digitise old film reels sees priceless footage pour out of closet

Unseen 90-second footage of BR Ambedkar, five-hour footage of Mahatma Gandhi, 30 hours of moving images of Indian soldiers in action in Europe, and Africa and East Asia during World War II have opened up an absolutely new treasure trove before the Pune-based body.

What began as an ambitious project to restore and digitise old film reels has now turned into a rediscovery of the countrys cinematic heritage as the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) has stumbled upon hundreds of unreleased films, precious directors scripts and footage dating back to World War II and the Indian freedom struggle while looking for old celluloid films.

Unseen 90-second footage of BR Ambedkar, five-hour footage of Mahatma Gandhi, 30 hours of moving images of Indian soldiers in action in Europe, and Africa and East Asia during World War II have opened up an absolutely new treasure trove before the Pune-based body.

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As part of the National Film Heritage Mission, the NFAI under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, has been scouting for rare film and nonfilm material for preservation, conservation, digitisation and restoration.

While the project initially envisaged drawing in old film reels to restore and digitise them, officials working on the project said the hunt for material has thrown up far more interesting finds than they had expected.

Officials added the move has seen unprecedented support from the film industry as production houses, directors, distributors and families of deceased cine stalwarts have come together to back the initiative, digging out archival material to share with NFAI.

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Every day in our pursuit of preservation, we are discovering precious new material. We received a batch of 162 unreleased films from Famous Studios in Mumbai that were made post 1960. Recently, actor Deepti Naval gave us the original celluloid reels of her unreleased directorial debut, NFAI director Prakash Magdum told Mail Today.

We got some original directors scripts from Sai Paranjpe. These scripts have handwritten comments written by the director and help us learn about the film-making process then, such as how much from the script was retai-ned, what was improvised etc.

When RK Studios in Mumbai was affected in a blaze late last year, the NFAI, apprehensive of losing archival material of RK Films, got in touch with theatre and film director Jabbar Patel, who in turn helped authorities connect with Randhir Kapoor.

It was then learnt that the original celluloid films were stored in a different location and the Kapoor family was happy to share them with the body.

Original reels of films made by V Shantaram, Subhash Ghai, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Basu Bhattacharya and Bimal Roy have all found their way to the NFAI while the body has also managed to access a 1919 silent film Bilwamangal from Paris and the first Devdas in Bengali released in 1935 from Bangladesh archives.

In our hunt for archival material we reached out to film producers, directors, distributors as well as various organisations such as the Film Federation of India, Producers Guild, film historians and experts. We travelled across the country and held meetings wherever there is a dominant film community and can help us with film reels, booklets, still photographs, moving images, wall posters, song booklets, etc., Magdum said.

So far, we have received more than 900 original film reels. We are now in the process of assessing the condition and quality of the old reels and segregating them accordingly. This is the worlds largest such initiative as we aim to restore around 1.32 lakh film reels and digitise them, said a senior ministry official.