Archival hopes for Odisha’s cinematic heritage gather dust
Although in a delayed move, the State government had announced setting up a film archive at Chalachitra Bhawan in Cuttack two years back, work has not moved beyond official files.
BHUBANESWAR: The 86-year-old Odia film industry which has bagged over 35 National Film Awards and given the country some of the finest actors and filmmakers does not yet have an archive or a library to preserve its rich cinematic heritage.
Although in a delayed move, the State government had announced setting up a film archive at Chalachitra Bhawan in Cuttack two years back, work has not moved beyond official files. Despite several award-winning films being made in the industry in the past, it was only in 2018-19 that the Odisha Film Development Corporation (OFDC) approached the State government for the first time to preserve them.
Prior to 2018-19, OFDC had attempted to archive a film in 1994 when Dilip Ray was the Industry minister. It was decided to preserve ‘Raghu Arakhita’ produced by OFDC and directed by Nitai Palit. During the making of the film, Palit passed away in 1991 and it was Govind Tej who completed it. Although a print of the film was then kept in Prasad Labs and OFDC decided to bring it back for archiving, work never proceeded due to alleged lack of administrative will.
No measures to procure prints
In fact, if film historians are to be believed, there was no serious attempt by OFDC or Culture department to procure reels of scores of films gathering dust in various film labs across the country and in some of its departments. During the 50s-60s, producers used to keep prints of their films in the labs at Kolkata and Chennai and had to pay a nominal fee for their preservation for a certain period. However, many did not pay up as a result of which the labs disposed many reels. A majority of the prints of Odia films were in Prasad Labs in Chennai, Ad Labs in Mumbai and Rupayan Labs in Kolkata. The miniscule number of reels that are left now are beyond restoration.
“Earlier, when government departments wished to screen their documentaries on various schemes in villages, they drew attention of the people by first screening 16 mm prints of films on projectors. For this purpose, the departments purchased prints from producers. But in the absence of regular cleaning and preservation, they were left to rot,” said Pravas Mohapatra, an official of Chalachitra Bhawan.The I&PR department, for instance, has the largest collection of Odia films in its film library facility in Bhubaneswar. In absence of maintenance, sources said, all the reels dumped in the library have been damaged now. While preserving a film requires a temperature-controlled room, the film library of I&PR has had no AC facility since the last 20 to 25 years.
The problems do not end here. When it comes to restoration and preservation of films, it is Film Journalists Forum (FJF) of Odisha which is doing the job as government has not initiated any measures so far. FJF has restored nearly 30 films in the past, the last being ‘Aparichita’ that was released in 1980.
Film historians said the state-of-affairs is despite the fact that almost 40 per cent of the old Odia films are already lost. “Films are a form of historical record of film-making. Unless we keep the record or archive them, the new generation technicians, film-lovers will not get an opportunity to learn from the finest films of the past,” said film historian and FJF founder secretary Surya Deo who restored ‘Aparichita’ and screened it this month.
Apart from FJF, the National Film Archives of India at Pune is restoring 26 Odia films released between the 60s and 80s under the Central Government’s National Film Heritage Mission that began in 2017.Chairman of OFDC Kuna Tripathy informed that the process will soon start for setting up the archive and collecting the existing film reels from either labs or family-run production houses. To start with, 100 Odia films have been identified to be digitised. Tripathy attributed the delay to the pandemic and staff shortage in OFDC. Sources in the Chalachitra Bhawan said documents are currently being prepared for procurement of hardware/equipment required for digitisation and preservation of films.