May 11, 2010

Ten Indian classics craving digital restoration

by Raja Sen

We don't take care of our masterpieces.

While we look to the West for inspiration and themes and technique, we don't seem to be paying attention to our finest, most historically relevant films. Even Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy is only as spectacularly viewed as it is now because of a Criterion Collection restoration.

This is a time when technology has the power to reshape a masterpiece, even make The Godfather feel as good as new. Our films deserve the digital shine just as much.

Here, then, are ten films we don't get to see the way they deserve to be. Ten films that haven't been Criterion'd, digitally restored or retouched, with a couple lamentably not even in existence anymore.

Raja Harishchandra

India's entry to the Oscars this year was a clever Marathi film calledHarishchandrachi Factory, a fictional take on how Dadasaheb Phalke made the first full-length feature film. Ironically, this film itself is not available for viewing.

The National Film Archive has only the first and the last reel out of the film's four reels, and it is tragic that this monumental achievement has been lost to us, seemingly forever.

Alam Ara

Ardeshir Irani's Alam Ara, made in 1931, was India's first talkie. Remarkably, it featured much music, its seven songs setting a template for Indian cinema to this day.

Inspired by Rodgers and Hammerstein's Show Boat, the film is a love story. However, because of a 2003 fire at the National Archives, the film is no longer available for viewing.

Neecha Nagar

Chetan Anand's 1946 masterpiece was India's first film to be internationally recognised, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes that year.

Written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and based on Maxim Gorky'sLower Depths, the film examined the great divide between the classes.

Much acclaim has also gone to the film's music, marking the first time Ravi Shankar worked on a film. Even now the film, about a tyrant hoarding water for a profit and then opening a hospital to treat those struck by contaminated water, feels alarmingly relevant.

While this film is available, the print leaves a lot to be desired, and this national treasure surely merits a proper digital spit-and-shine.

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