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‘Endangered’ Indian classic cinema at Italy film festival


Indian classic cinema of the 1950s and rare newsreels are part of a renowned international film fest currently underway in Italy

awaraNew Delhi: Indian classic cinema of the 1950s and rare newsreels including one showing a meeting between Mahatma Gandhi and Charlie Chaplin in London, are part of a renowned international film fest currently underway in Italy.

Eight black-and-white films including legendary Hindi cinema like ‘Awara’, ‘Pyaasa’, ‘Mother India’ and S S Vasan’s iconic ‘Chandralekha’ in Tamil are up for screening at the ‘Il Cinema Ritrovato’ festival in the city of Bologna.

Titled ‘The Golden 50s: India’s Endangered Clasics’, it is the first Indian cinema retrospective at the festival, which is dedicated to film restoration and its history.

The festival has been curated by filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, known for his National Award-winning marathon documentary ‘Celluloid Man’ that highlighted the loss of Indian cinematic heritage including rare silent-era films.

“About 1700 silent films were made in India of which only five or six complete films remain. Tragically, we have even lost our first talkie ‘Alam Ara’ of 1931. By 1950, India had lost seventy to eighty per cent of its films and this has been the result of a widespread and complacent belief that films will last forever.

“We now realise that these eight classics too are in imminent danger of being lost to the world if urgent steps are not taken for their preservation and restoration. Screening these films is not just a reminder of a singular cinematic legacy, but one that is endangered and must be saved,” Dungarpur said.32-Charlie-Chaplin-and-Mahatma-Gandhi

Pointing out that ‘Il Cinema’ festival is attended by cinema lovers, filmmakers , archivists, critics and scribes from around the world, Dungarpur hopes the screening brings about awareness about the conditions of these films, at home and abroad.

“Most of the original negatives do not exist and what has survived are dupe negatives and prints in poor condition,” he said.

‘Celluloid Man’ was hailed in the country and world over for broaching the subject of loss of Indian cinematic legacy and post this film, Dungarpur created a non-profit organisation called the ‘Film Heritage Foundation’ dedicated solely for film preservation.

The retrospective and the newsreels showcased at the festival in Italy are one of the first initiatives of the foundation, which has renowned filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi, and founder of National Film Archives of India, P K Nair, among others, as its advisors.

Among the rare newsreels are Lord Mountbatten’s last day as Viceroy in India, Gandhi meeting Chaplin in London during the Round Table Conference, Dungarpur said, adding they will in traditional style, precede each of the eight films.

The eight selected film are — ‘Chandralekha’ (1948), considered India’s first spectacular; Raj Kapoor’s ‘Awara’ (1951); Bimal Roy’s ‘Do Bigha Zamin’ (1953) and Madhumati (1958); Ritwik Ghatak’s poignant drama ‘Ajantrik’ (1957); Mehboob’s landmark Mother India (1957); and Guru Dutt’s poetry on celluloid, Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), India’s first film shot in CinemaScope.

On the selection process, Dungarpur said, “It was difficult to choose just eight films from the three major film industries of the time – Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Each of these eight films represents an innovation in thought, form or style.

“And, these six men were among these ‘rebel’ filmmakers who made the 1950s as truly the golden age of Indian cinema. And, therefore a collective effort must be made to save these cultural icons before we lose them for good.”

The 28th edition of the festival in the Italian city began on June 28 and ends on July 5.

The retrospective has been arranged in collaboration with the Pune-based National Film Archives of India (NFAI) and the Films Division.


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