By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on March 16, 2016
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur is a man on a mission. In the year 2012, he made the documentary Celluloid Man, which traces the incredible life story of the grand old man of film archiving in India and Dungarpur's source of inspiration- P K Nair. The film was his tribute to the man who single-handedly saved an entire legacy of films from the bygone era. But he didn't stop there. He took up the mission of his Guru and went on to found the very first non-governmental, not for profit organization, Film Heritage Foundation, which dedicates itself to the conservation of India's cinematic heritage.
Founded in the year 2014, the nascent organization has made its presence felt in the short span. Among the various activities that the foundation undertakes, the Film Preservation & Restoration Workshops conducted by the foundation have been lauded by many. The foundation has conducted two training workshops; the first one took place in 2015 in Mumbai and the second workshop, which was held at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune concluded recently. The workshop started by the foundation is the first ever training initiative in India in the field of film archiving. Also, the workshop brought together expert faculty from across the world and focused on practical training.
We interviewed the man behind this - Shivendra Singh Dungarpur- a filmmaker and a dedicated archivist, who has taken upon himself not just the task of saving India's cinematic heritage, but also of educating the young minds to follow in his wake. In this interview, Dungarpur speaks about putting together the intensive workshop, the current state of film archiving in India, the issue of accessibility, the future plans of his foundation and the challenges that lie ahead for the modern day archivist.
Below are the excerpts from the interview:
We did the first workshop in 2015 and the second one this year. Within the span of two years, from when we started thinking of education in archiving, we have managed to train nearly 100 archivists. So, I think it has been a remarkable two years for Film Heritage Foundation (FHF). It’s not easy to conduct two back to back workshops of this magnitude. Especially for a foundation, which is a not-for-profit organization and relies on funding.
I think the only way to move forward in India and save our cinematic heritage is on two principles- first is education. And once you educate, you also need people to carry forward that work. That’s to build the future film archivists, which we’ll still continue to do. We’re really proud that we were able to achieve that by introducing a hundred new film archivists, who are now trained and can work towards saving the heritage.
Secondly, the level of awareness was important for us. Both these workshops have created a huge awareness about film preservation & restoration among people. Now at least people know that there’s a thing called film preservation and restoration. There's has always been a void. I realized right from my association with the making of Celluloid Man and when I released the film in 2012, that there was no understanding of what film preservation was. People just didn’t know what it was. People thought that one would watch films; whether films were surviving, not surviving, they didn’t care.
So I think if you look at it from there, film preservation has reached a long way in India since we started the foundation in 2014. We’re really proud of the fact, also, that internationally, we’re perhaps the only country which has this magnitude of training happening within a period of two years.
When we conducted this workshop, we were emphasizing three basic factors: first, we wanted this to be a very intensive workshop, of 10 days. Secondly, we wanted there to be practical lessons. When I sat down with David Walsh to design the workshop, and when we decided on the faculty, the important thing was to have enough of practical lessons. Thirdly, the emphasis was on two aspects, which were not earlier recognized, one is cataloging and non-filmic archiving.
In the earlier workshop, we did practical training, but it was more focused on restoration. After we included these aspects in the training program, many people who applied were people already working with museums. And also a lot of people who wanted to enter the museums. Whether it was Mehrangarh Museum or whether it was the organization called Eka. So after doing this workshop, it’d open up various opportunities to people to excel at museums, and carry forward the work.
As far as filmic archiving is concerned, there were two purposes for us. A large quantity of people came from the NFAI. So we trained these people through the workshop. Especially if they’ll be going for the National Film Heritage Mission in future, we’d want our films to be cataloged and restored by the people with highest level of skill. So we tried to expose the people from NFAI to the best practices there are.
Now the people who had come from outside NFAI, they could be absorbed in various places. One of them is , of course, the NFAI. Because they are very short-staffed and they’ll be looking for skilled personnel to look after the heritage. Secondly, FHF is trying to grow in several directions now. We’re looking for people who could work with us in cataloging, non-filmic archive as well as the film archive.We want to make it a huge organization, which will be like a parallel to the NFAI. A not-for-profit organisation which has its own archive. So, we will be absorbing many people.
Thirdly, there are numerous labs, which will be taking up restoration work in future. They're in need of skilled, experienced personnel. Film repair, film cleaning, scanning, there are so many things to be done. There are many labs who are now understanding how restoration needs to be done. So basically, the opportunity which wasn’t there has now opened up. And after the inception of FHF, there are several organizations which have come up in all parts of the country which are trying to save the heritage.
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur Speaks During The Closing Ceremony Of FPRWI2016
In terms of film archiving, earlier there was only NFAI. It's the only institution you’re sort of banking on. And that’s what the real problem is. A country as diverse as India should have had many archives. And not only government archives, but a lot of private archives as well should have opened up. And that’d have helped to ease out the pressure on NFAI. We expect the government to fully take up the task, that’s the problem. Why should be the government be the only caretaker of this heritage?
We make films all over the country. And we have at least 8 film industries now. There are 4 in the South itself. Then there’s Mumbai, Kolkata, Orissa, you know. So may industries, but only one film archive! So with the coming of FHF, I think it should have a certain influence and many such archives should be created. So that more films can be preserved. All archives should work closely together so that we can all work towards the same mission.
As far as restoration is concerned, the idea of the workshop was to bring the best practices and to make the people understand how restoration is important and how it should be done. I think there’s general misconception among people on two aspects. First is that restoration means digitization. That’s wrong. Secondly, they think if you restore the film then you don’t need the celluloid.
Restoration means returning an object back to its original form, the way the creator had created it. In a way, what is film restoration? It starts with film repair, then you take it to the next step, which is called scanning and after scanning you do the cleaning up and then comes the digital process. But through the process, there’s a historian involved, there’s a filmmaker involved, constantly checking whether it’s exactly like when it was made. Like, if you have Van Gogh’s Sunflower and if the paint of the sunflower is gone in little places, you re-patch it in such a way that you’re not able to make out the difference between Gogh’s painting and the touch-up done today. You don’t make it different color, you don’t improve upon it. You keep in mind the conditions, the time period when it was created. That’s restoration.
So if a film is made in the 1970, you don’t make it look like a 2016 film when you restore it. You bring back the film to the way it was supposed to have released when it released originally in 1970, keeping in mind all the cinematic elements which were prevalent in 1970.
See, as an archivist, we believe that any film that has been watched by people, the common man, is an important film to be preserved. We don’t differentiate between a Govinda film and a Satyajit Ray film or a Ritwik Ghatak film. That’s the foremost thing to keep in mind for an archivist. It’s to recognize that any film that has been watched by general audience is to be preserved. We can of course have individual taste or individual feeling, but as archivists, we believe that a Govinda film is equally important to a Ray film, in terms of film preservation. So we don’t differentiate.
When it comes to figuring out what to restore, you need to start with the most important films. You need to prioritize the oldest films that you need to restore first. Because they are the oldest, they are in more danger of getting degraded. So you need to start with that. Prioritization happens on the basis of the age of the films.
If I have to restore, I’d begin with the films from the silent era, the early talkies from the 30’s and the 40’s, I’d concentrate on the silent films up to the 1950’s first. They require maximum restoration.
And I wouldn’t judge on the basis of what area, what language they come from. I’d judge by the condition of the material. So the first & foremost is to do what’s urgently required. And preserving the oldest of the material which is in danger of getting finished. So those you need to prioritize.
See, in terms of archiving, we had a person from the BBC archives teaching at the workshop. Richard Wright is responsible for the immense archive that BBC has, who took it to the level where it’s called the one million archive. As an archivist, I believe that any form of visual content, may it be advertising or TV or music videos, everything needs to be preserved. TV has to have a movement where they start archiving, especially institutions like Doordarshan, which had a monopoly over the years of doing several important interviews and shows on things like Humatic, beta and digibeta. I believe that they’re already carrying out a digitization program. But what’s the responsibility of TV companies is to be able to store and understand the importance of restoration of all these programs, to digitize them, to keep them as a bank and they should be involved with us to help us save the medium.
But apart from TV archiving, what’s equally important is accessibility. One of the things which I noticed with the British Film Institute in London was that they were digitizing home movies, wonderful home movies and they were making it accessible to people. The fact with restoration or digitization is the question of accessibility. And it only makes sense if you make it accessible.
The moment you have a restoration program, you should also know how to curate the program. Meaning the films that are being restored, how are they to be brought back to the audience? And how audience are going to be brought to the theatres to watch these films. That was what I learnt during the Hitchcock campaign in London, how they brought the audience to the theatres to watch the restored 9 films of Hitchcock.
And it was just amazing! So along with restoration what’s important is accessibility and the campaign. You have to make people feel that the films are living even today.They’re in your memories, but they can be watched from a different perspective today.Restoration is about bringing a film back to its previous glory, but also when it’s viewed in a different time, it has a different meaning. So the public accessibility is the key part in the process of restoration.
One of the biggest challenges for the modern day archivist is to realize the importance of celluloid. There’s a general notion among people that celluloid is redundant. Most people think that in this digital age the use of celluloid is only to scan the material and throw it away. However, that’s not true. The future archivist needs to realize that. He or she needs to know how to protect the celluloid.
Because majority of our film heritage that we have, right up to the 1990’s, is on celluloid. So while talking about digital age, you’re only talking about the last 10-15 years. What about the rest of the 80-90 years? That’s all on celluloid. So the biggest challenge is to realize that and to be able to work within the boundaries of celluloid. And today as well, the best form of preservation is celluloid. One needs to take that into account.
Another of the biggest challenges, even today, is finance. For any form of preservation, the money that one gets is limited. There are always limited resources. The challenge is to be able to use those limited resources wisely. There needs to be correct channeling of the resources- like preserving and restoring some films on priority. That needs to be worked out. That’s one thing we were aiming in our workshop. The archivist should know how to channelize the funds.
Another thing we focused on in the workshop was to develop leadership quality in the participants. Any kind of preservation starts with an individual. So individuals have to learn & carry forward that mission on their own and build around that. We have initiated this, now we expect them to take this forward.
It’s not going to be easy. Because you’re trying to save the whole heritage. But what’s important is that the challenges have to be met. And we have created avenues, and now it’s up to them to face these challenges.
(L-R) Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO Viacom18, Naseeruddin Shah, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur At The Opening Ceremony Of FPRWI 2016
Viacom 18 has been a tremendous partner. They started supporting us right from the first workshop. Even in the second year they came on board. It was a unique partnership this year because they were single-handedly the most important partner we had. They’ve been instrumental in supporting us in this endeavor and without their support we wouldn’t have been able to do both the workshops. What’s wonderful about them is that they’ve supported the initiative, without putting down terms & conditions. And they’ve done so without keeping any financial expectation from this workshop.
They’ve done it for supporting the cause, they’ve come on the same platform as us and said that we need to preserve our cinematic heritage and partner in the training with us. That kind of support is tremendous. I’d specially say that about Sudhanshu Vats, the Group CEO of Viacom, because had it not been his vision, we’d not have gone so far.
We’d like it if they take this whole idea forward by helping us restore some wonderful classics. But that’s in the future. We’d definitely like them to do that. I hope after this workshop, we can sit down with them and work out a future plan where we can restore some of the milestone films of India and bring them back to limelight in order to make people understand the impact of the workshop on all of us.
One of the key things for us is to carry forward the workshops. We’ll conduct another workshop very soon. Also, we’re focusing on smaller workshops and we’re trying to take these workshops to the other parts of the country. The first workshop we did in Mumbai, the second one we did in Pune at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). It was because we wanted to help NFAI to understand the resources they have and to build capacity within NFAI. After all, they’re the largest film archive in the country.
We need to spread it around in the country, to make it acceptable with people. Whether in the South or in Bengal, we need to reach other parts of the country, so that they can also be a part of it. So we’re planning the future workshops in the South.
Another key thing for FHF is to work towards building our own archive, which we have already started doing. We’re already into non-filmic archive. By that, I mean the conservation of posters, photographs, lobby cards, booklets. Everything to do with cinema. And we’re also building our own film archive, we’re building our own cell working on a massive database and cataloging. FHF will work towards not only helping future leadership of archivists, but also work towards building our own archive.
Another one of our future plans is to have something dedicated to P K Nair. Either it will in the form of an annual P K Nair memorial lecture or it’ll be something else which will dedicate its life to achieve excellence in the name of Nair.
One of the key things that we have done, has also been to recognize people around the world for excellence. We’ve been giving the Outstanding Achievement Awards. Last year, at the hands of Amitabh Bachchan, we gave the Lifetime Achievement Award to P K Nair and an award for Outstanding Achievement to Gian Luca Farinelli of Cineteca di Bologna. This year, we were able to give the awards to two more people- David Walsh of the Imperial War Museum and Paolo Cherchi Usai for their outstanding achievement. So FHF is recognizing the outstanding achievement in film preservation worldwide.
We’ll be taking all of these things forward in the future. There are many ideas in the pipeline, but we’d like to do smaller workshops in between and at some point conduct larger workshops.