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)


December 2, 2009

The Magic Lantern brings alive cinema’s past at IFFI

By Utpal Borpujari

A green-coloured tin contraption is far, far away from what you would imagine a movie projector to be in these days of digital projections in multiplexes, but that is what helped people over a century ago understand the power of cinema.

 “Shambarik Kharolika” or the “Magic Lantern”, as the contraption is called, brought alive cinema as it were in the late 19th century right here at the 40th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), as slides after colour slides handpainted on glass told the story of Lord Krishna’s childhood.

With live music and narration, the Magic Lantern was a popular medium of entertainment in Maharashtra from 1885 to 1918, when it died a slow death as silent cinema slowly gained popularity.

But family members of Mahadeo Gopal Patwardhan, who had developed the instrument with his friend Madanrao Madhavrao Pitale, are keeping alive the archival tradition at Kalyan in Maharashtra, with the help of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) in Pune.

The only difference is that while in its halcyon days it was a thing of big public admiration, now it is more of a historical relic that is showcased occasionally in film institutes and festivals.

Sunil Patwardhan, a bank official and grandson of Mahadeo Gopal, is striving hard to keep alive this tenuous link with India’s cinematic past. Quite naturally, he and his family were the cynosure of all eyes as they showcased the machine and the magic created by it at the festival Tuesday evening.

Now a property of the NFAI after the family donated it to the institution, there is only one surviving Magic Lantern now, even though in its days of bloom, three of them were used simultaneously to create various effects, says NFAI director Vijay Jadhav.

“We now have slides of Ramayan, Raja Harishchandra and circus scenes which we show,” says Patwardhan, whose young sons Akshay and Atharva and wife Seema assist him.

He, however, feels that the government should help initiate research on the slides, which even after over 100 years, have colours that look freshly painted.  “We want help from the government in preserving this relic. Also someone should be trained to handle this, so that it does not get lost with time,” he says.

“It is the last link with that part of our cinematic heritage that served as the connection between theatre and cinema,” he adds.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 26-11-2009)


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