Utpal Borpujari

February 23, 2010

NMML stumbles upon audio-visual treasure trove

By Utpal Borpujari

A treasure trove of audio-visual material pertaining to the Gandhi-Nehru era have been discovered lying unattended for years at the hallowed precincts of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) located at Teen Murti House, the erstwhile residence of India’s first Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru.

Altogether 2,450 cans of 35mm, 16mm and 8mm films, believed to be mostly concentrating on Nehru’s life and times, have been already sent to the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) for restoration, while an inventory is being prepared of “several thousand” audio tapes of speeches of Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

The lot also includes some very rare LP and SP records, such as “Bapuki Amar Kahani” (HMV, 1963), which has lyrics by Rajendra Krishna sung by Mohammad Rafi to compositions of Husnlal Bhagatram, and the multi-record “Amar Vani – Mahatma Gandhi Ke Prarthonattar Bhashan” (HMV-AIR) comprising Gandhi’s answers to questions he received from public after his evening prayers.

After restoration, the whole lot will be digitalized as part of NMML’s ongoing project to digitalise all the newspapers and manuscripts in its archives, and made available to researchers and academics through an in-house server.

“The reels and the tapes were lying in a room without anyone paying attention to them till I discovered them almost accidentally. The films were apparently collected for a film on Nehru by the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (JLMF), which were handed over to NMML sometime in 1992-93 for storage. Since then, they had been lying in an AC room. Now everything is being restored and digitalized by NFAI,” NMML director Mridula Mukherjee told Deccan Herald.

The audio tapes, similarly, were apparently collected during research for the Collected Works of Nehru project supervised by historian S Gopal.

“Since the material was not integrated with the library, and also not part of the archive in use, we were not aware of their existence till I decided to open the locked room one day,” she says.

“The inventory making process has been a real arduous task as many of the film cans did not even have any information on them. There were four 8mm reels, around 40 16mm, and the rest 35mm comprising negatives, print positives, negative-positives and optical tapes,” says Vagish Jha, in charge of the moving images digitalisation process that is part of the overall multimedia project of NMML.

“The records are especially fascinating because they are definitely very rare finds,” he says. “We are preparing the inventory. It will be difficult to hazard a guess, but thousands of tapes are there. I am told that they came from JNMF,” he adds.

Mukherjee says the digitalisation has been taken up as a pilot project initially since it is still not clear how researchers would seek to utilise them. As part of the multimedia project, NMML is also planning to build a “national repository” of documentary films of all sorts apart from archiving television news.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 22-02-2010)



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