“Film has to be preserved in its original form that is film itself”: In Conversation with Filmmaker and Archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

On occasion of the ongoing Film Preservation & Restoration Workshop at NFAI, Pune (26th Feb – 6th March), celebrated film maker & one of the architects of the workshop, Mr. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, spoke to MAM. Mr. Dungarpur is best known for his National Award winning documentary “Celluloid Man” and is also the founder of the Film Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization involved in preserving India’s cinematic heritage.  

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur 2What is the primary objective of this workshop?

We had done the first workshop last year. It created awareness about Film Preservation and highlighted it as a career option among participants. With this workshop we are aiming at helping Government of India and NFAI with archiving. We are training their staff besides creating awareness among public at large. We are telling them why they should go ahead and preserve a film and how they can do it on their own by taking up the art form professionally.  Last year, in Mumbai, the turn out was 52. Mr. Amitabh Bachchan had come on board as our brand ambassador. This year at Pune the turn out is 48.  We are hoping to take forward the good work of last year.

Tell us something about the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF)

It was started in 2014 to help us save our cinematic heritage. Since then our main objective has not only been to train people on Film Preservation, but also to build our archives. We started poster preservation as well and have now extended it to lobby carts, cinema tickets also. You can also go through our book Darkness into Light, which talks about 50 films to be archived.

How does FHF plan to go ahead in achieving its vision over the next few years?

Over the next two years we will have more workshops. The next one will be in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Having already covered Bombay & Pune, our next destination will be in Southern India.  The other thing is to acquire and build our own archive – FHF Archive.

How does having a media conglomerate like Viacom18 on board help in these initiatives?

Without them we could not have done this or last one. Mr. Sudhanshu Bhatt from Viacom helped us with the last one and this. They were the only one from the industry who understood the importance of Film Preservation and came on board to help us.

Where all do you see gaps in Film Preservation process in India?

Firstly, it is not recognized as an art form. So it suffers from people not caring about it. It also suffers deeply from notion that it is very expensive. Hence, many bodies don’t engage in it. They feel it’s government’s responsibility. They don’t consider celluloid as an important aspect of preservation. Film has to be preserved in its original form that is film itself. Digital format is constantly changing. But with film, you can still find it in cans, with the images imprinted on reels.

You are the guy behind the celebrated documentary on archivist Mr. P K Nair – The Celluloid Man. Did you see a change in audience’s perception of film preservation after its screenings?

Since you mentioned about Nair saab, I would like to bring to the notice of the readers that he is in a critical condition at a hospital in Pune. People who liked the film, we request them to pray for his speedy recovery. He is the Father of Film Preservation in India. He is the only man who knows which film reel is stored in which shelf at the NFAI library.

Shivendra Singh DungarpurThe Celluloid Man brought in a huge change in perception.For the first time people go to know about Film Preservation, about NFAI. Film archiving was recognized as an important aspect of Film Preservation. Never realized that the documentary would make people recognize the art form seriously. It also led me to start the FHF in 2014. Since then it has been a different journey for my wife, Tisha, and me. I have received tremendous support from her for this workshop, for FHF as a whole.  I hope there is more good things to come in this journey together.

Tell us about your other documentary – The Immortals. It was quiet unique in subject and execution

Immortals is about images and objects. Dada Saheb Phalke’s car, which he took for shooting. He is gone, but a mechanic loves the car and how passionately he is taking care of it intrigued me. There is Subroto Mitra’s camera, which his brother hides under his bed. So he is protecting it in his own way. Satyajit Ray’s chair, which he sat on and thought about his scripts. Then there is Saigal sahb’s harmonium. These are images and objects that have survived the film makers.  One of my favorite childhood songs used to be My name is Anthony Gonsalves and I always wondered who was this Anthony Gnosalves till I went to Goa and met those viloinists who used to be part of Laxmikant Pyarelal’s troupe. They told me that it was a tribute to the music teacher of Pyarelal – Mr. Ramprasad Sharma – who used to be one of the most famous music arrangers in Bombay in the 1930s. I have incorporated this story as well in the documentary.

Why did you choose to restore Kalpana? How did collaboration with Martin Scorcese happen on that?

Scorcese chose that film. Pandit Ravi Shankar’s younger brother Uday Shankar (who wrote & directed the film) had told him about it.. Scorcese was finding it very difficult to find the material in NFAI to restore it. It was then that he someone told him about me and he took my help. We sent the material to Bologna lab where Kalpana was restored. The film finally premiered in Cannes in 2012 which was quiet a landmark for Indian Cinema.

Thank you sir for your time. We wish you and the FHF the very best for this workshop and the future.

Thanks for the wishes. We take the opportunity to thank Viacom 18 again for all their support.

1 Comment

  1. Ashwin Mazdur says:

    Good interview, Abhi. Film preservation is an important art, i hope it get’s its due in India soon. Also sad to know the P K Nair passed away, sad to say Indian government never recognised his worth or work.


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