Mumbai: For decades, they have been stored at 2 degrees Celsius, with relative humidity set at 26%. Now, the celluloid stars of yesteryears, their movements stilled and voices frozen in the vaults of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), are set for a second act.
Film classics from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, such as Sanjog, Amiri and Anarkali, are among the titles due for restoration under a drive to preserve and protect the country’s cinematic legacy.
In addition to digitizing and restoring an initial 1,000 films at a cost of about Rs10 lakh per film, NFAI is also looking to buy the master prints of classics and box office hits. In the event that “pristine” restoration of a film is required, the cost per 120-minute print can go up to Rs40 lakh.
“It is the first time we are doing this, but the need was felt a long time back,” explains Vijay Jadhav, director of NFAI, who says the ministry of information and broadcasting has allocated Rs30 crore for buying master prints and restoring classics.
“We have been having a debate for some time here about how to do this and which format would be the most stable. Despite our efforts, we have not been able to stop the degradation of some of the prints, and we have to preserve the picture and the sounds.”
The story of the illicit love affair between Mughal prince Nuruddin Salim, son of emperor Akbar, and slave girl Anarkali, told in the eponymous 1953 film Anarkali, as well as the historical drama Veer Rajputani (1955), directed by J.B.H. Wadia and starring Shakila, Manhar Desai and Meenakshi, are among the titles in line for restoration.
NFAI has also fast-tracked a series of films in various regional languages, including Marathi-language film Ardhangi (1940), Uttama Puthran (1940), made in Tamil, Kannada-language film Harishchandra (1943), Bengal’s Jogajog (1943) and the 1964 Kashmiri film Nain Raat, for the restoration programme.
“We have a budget for 1,000 films, but if the budget permits, then we can do more,” says Jadhav, the custodian of the 6,000 titles and the 17,000 prints in duplicate or triplicate held by the government-run NFAI.
“We are also trying to acquire as many films as possible because all the master copies should be with us. In cases where the masters are not with us, we are trying to acquire those films. I want those films to be good to be watched even after 500 years. The first stage is the scanning and digitization, and we can freeze the condition through this at this point in time.”
Colour films are optimally stored at 2 degrees Celsius with relative humidity at 26%. Black and white prints are kept at 16 degrees Celsius with relative humidity set at 45% to avoid decay and damage.
The move to restore and preserve the films comes amid concern that classics such as the 1979 romantic drama Sparsh, which have been stored in vaults at production houses and archives, have decomposed over time and represent a significant loss to the country’s cinematic records.
Although NFAI admits to degradation of the prints and says it has a priority list of 150 films for digitization and restoration, Jadhav is confident the prints can be entirely restored to their original form.
“They are retrievable, there is no problem at all as of now. They have not deteriorated beyond rescue,” he says.
The contract for the restoration, which involves cataloguing the condition of the prints before arresting deterioration by digitizing the film at full resolution, was earlier this year won by Adlabs Films Ltd, a division of Reliance Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.
The company is in the process of setting up a film restoration and content reprocessing outsourcing facility in the Mumbai suburb of Vashi, where a staff of up to 1,200 technicians will be charged with the task of preserving and restoring films.
“The entire market globally is worth $400 million (Rs1,956 crore), with the film restoration part worth about $100 million,” said Anil Arjun, chief executive of Adlabs Films, explaining the lure of establishing a foothold in the business.
“We are starting with 1,000 films from the film archives dating back to the 1930s. A lot of work needs to be done on these prints. It involves cleaning the films and restoring the condition, but only now is the technology coming into play that enables the restoration of films.”
Moving into a space currently occupied by rivals including Shemaroo Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, Prime Focus Ltd and Goldstone Technologies Ltd, Adlabs Films is hoping to benefit from India’s competitive labour costs as well as economies of scale, in order to gain contracts from film production companies across the world.
The company, which puts the capital investment cost of its Vashi facility at $35 million, says it is in talks with companies in the UK and the US for restoration projects that will help it take a larger chunk of the global market.
“This business is very nascent,” explains Hiren Gada, director for Shemaroo Entertainment, the company which was behind the restoration of films including Mahaan, starring Amitabh Bachchan, as well as Kasme Vade and Pukar.
“There are limited funds for restoration of films, so anywhere between 50 and 75 films have been restored so far in India.”
Films in line for restoration were selected by NFAI on several criteria, including level of deterioration, rarity of print and the popularity of the cast, according to Jadhav, who added that the organization would seek to purchase master prints for its collection on the basis of “moral values”, box office popularity and critical acclaim.