NEW DELHI : The reels of the suspense thriller released in 1967 starring evergreen Dev Anand had lost the colours and restoration was seemingly impossible.
The original camera negatives of 1970 Bengali drama, Pratidwandi, directed by legendary Satyajit Ray were in possession of the producer and were handed over to National Film Archive of India (NFAI) for restoration. It had some deteriorated and missing frames as emulsion on the reels peeled off. However, the team of experts set up under the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) meticulously worked on available ‘elements’ to bring these films back to life.
“Given the damage--colours have faded—restoration of ‘Jewel Thief’ to original colours was almost next to impossible. Lot of testing was conducted to get the best results because it is very difficult to work with the colour-faded films. The team worked really hard to get the colours how they would have appeared when the film was originally released in 1967,” said officials of National Film Development Corporation of India-National Film Archive of India (NFDC-NFAI) associated with the Mission.
The restoration of the damaged Pratidwandi negatives was also a challenge. The original camera negative of the movie available was not of a ‘decent quality’. The team had to travel to Kolkata to convince the producer to get hold of the negatives. But the original negative also had issues: some frames were missing.
“There were frames where emulsion had peeled off and images were gone. The alternative film elements of Pratidwandi in NFAI’s collection had sub-titles embossed, so they were not usable for restoration. Luckily, we found another release print at West Bengal State Film Archive without subtitles. We took missing portions from that print then completed the film. That’s how it was restored,” said another official.
Jewel Thief and Pratidwandi are among iconic films which posed a challenge to the restoration team because of the grade of damage to their prints.
Nearly 2,500 films of different languages have been restored so far under the Mission that was launched in 2022 for restoration and conservation of rare and old films. A committee identified about 5,100 films based on the guidelines of the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) to be taken up for restoration.
The list of other classics restored includes a biopic in Bengali Vidyapati (1937) directed by Debaki Bose, Patala Bhairavi (Telugu/ 1951), Shyamchi Aai (Marathi/1953), Bees Saal Baad (Hindi/1962), Haqeeqat (Hindi/1964), Anand’s Guide released (Hind/1965) and Chorus (Bengali/1974).
Some of these restored masterpieces have been shown in international films festivals and events in the city and had received rave reviews.
Some of the oldest titles that are under restoration are V Shantaram’s Agnikankankan (Marathi/ 1932), Mukti (Hindi/ 1937) directed by BC Barua and Sushil Majumdar’s Rikta (Bengali/ 1939).
Joint secretary (films), I&B ministry Prithul Kumar said the initiative was started by the Government with an effort to preserve the rich cinematic heritage of the country, not just of Hindi cinema but of all languages. "Of the films that have been restored, some date back to the early 1930s. With over 5000 films being restored and digitised, this is one of the largest film restoration projects in the world and under the able leadership of the I&B minister, who has already invited more producers and directors to donate their films for restoration and digitisation," said Kumar, who is also the Managing Director, NFDC.
Close to 100 people including expert professionals are part of the team involved in the restoration, conservation and digitisation of films. On average, it takes three months to complete the restoration of a movie.
“The available materials such as negatives or reels are not in the best shape. We have to use material bearing time-induced defects like scratches or dust particles. They are digitally removed, which is part of digital restoration. 50 percent of films selected under the project will be undergoing this process,” said the officials.
The NFHM was launched in November, 2014 initially spread over for five years, which was envisaged at a cost of Rs 597.41 crore. The programme was restructured in Mission mode and has been extended to 2024-25 with an estimated outlay of Rs 544.82 crore.