I’ve been attending a festival called Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy for the last few years. This is a festival of restored films and it really amazed me what fantastic work they were doing at the restoration lab in Bologna. They work very closely with the World Cinema Foundation (WCF) headed by Martin Scorsese, who have been doing remarkable work restoring films from all around the world. Last year one of the representatives from WCF mentioned to me that they had been trying to get an Indian film called “Kalpana” directed by Uday Shankar for restoration. They had been trying for almost three years to get the film cans out of India, but they had not been able to do it for various reasons and they had given up.
I had seen Kalpana at a private screening that I had paid for at the Archive in Pune and I knew it was an extraordinary film especially from the point of view of dance and the use of light. I promised the WCF that I would get the film for them to restore, but they were sceptical given their previous experience. Even I didn’t anticipate the extent that I would have to run from pillar to post for this.
I knew the Shankar family and that I was working very closely with the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) for my documentary on P.K. Nair called “Celluloid Man.” I met Amala Shankar (Uday Shankar’s wife) in Kolkata along with her daughter Mamata Shankar and daughter-in-law Tanusree Shankar . I had to request them to procure a legal opinion from their lawyer as there was some litigation regarding the rights of the film that needed to be clarified before WCF could go ahead with the restoration. After a lot of persuasion and several trips to Pune, the NFAI also agreed after I showed them a letter from Martin Scorsese stating that I represented the WCF in this matter and on the condition that I took the onus of sending the cans to Italy and ensured their return. So in a matter of a few months, I managed to send the film to Bologna from my office in Mumbai. In fact, I am responsible for the negative.
I’ve been hearing great reports on the restoration and the lab in Bologna worked round the clock to ensure that they could premier the restored version of Kalpana at the Cannes Classic section. The WCF have very kindly invited me and Amala Shankar for the premier and we will walk the red carpet at 6.30 p.m. on May 17 before the premier. Amalaji is 94 years old and she is thrilled to travel to Cannes and walk the red carpet to see the only film made by her husband in which she played the main role.
At Cannes I have also been invited to see the restored version of Sergei Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America”. As I am a donor for the restoration of Hitchcock’s film “The Lodger”, the British Film Institute has invited me to a screening of their restoration of Hitchcock’s silent film “The Ring” with live accompaniment.
In the West, there is a strong culture of preservation and restoration of films that India completely lacks. This is a shame given what a great cinematic history we have. This is what inspired me to make my documentary “Celluloid Man” on P.K. Nair, the founder of the National Film Archive of India. Mr. Nair singlehandedly built the Archive. It’s thanks to him that film students from the Film Institute, Pune like me had the opportunity to see the work of great filmmakers like Ozu, Tarkovsky, Fellini, etc. My film is a tribute to Mr. Nair and his life’s work and somewhere I hope people will realize how important it is to collect and restore our films.
One of the main reasons, I pushed so hard for Kalpana to be restored is that I am hoping that other Indian films will also get chosen for restoration. As a matter of fact, the lab in Bologna wants to restore Ritwik Ghatak’s “Meghe Daka Tara” and have asked me to help them raise the funding. I am hoping the Indian film fraternity or corporate houses will come forward so we don’t have to rely on the West.