Mumbai-based filmmaker and archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur made history recently by hunting down and restoring one of Sri Lanka’s lost cinematic treasures, Nidhanaya, which means “treasure”.
The Sinhalese language film directed by the legendary Lester James Peries had bagged the Silver Lion of St Mark at the Venice Film Festival and was recognised as an “Outstanding Film of the Year” at the London Film Festival, both in 1972. But before long, the masterpiece had disappeared. Three copies kept in the National Film Corporation’s archive had gone to seed, afflicted by the “Vinegar Syndrome”. The negatives had vanished without a trace.
Moved by Peries’ plight, veteran actor Ravindra Randeniya, who heads ‘Film Team’, a film shooting logistics provider, and his son Sameera, director of the Lester James Peries and Sumitra Peries Foundation, launched a world-wide search for copies of Nidhanaya. It was when the search was proving to be fruitless that Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who had been using Film Team’s production facilities for his ad films, asked the Randeniyas for an introduction to Peries whom he considered an “icon” of Lankan cinema.
“When the 94-year-old maestro told me about Nidhanaya, I vowed to help. While knocking at various doors from October 2012 onwards, I learnt that the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune had a ‘dupe’ negative of the film. It had been collected and preserved by P K Nair, father of film archiving in India,” Dungarpur, told Express over phone from Mumbai.
“Since I had restored Uday Shankar’s 1948 film Kalpana at the Cineteca di Bologna in Italy, with the assistance of the World Cinema Foundation, I got their help. But getting the dupe negative out of NFAI was not easy.”