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Friday, February 20, 2009

A century too late...

The National Archives of India (NIA) has suddenly woken up to the fact that prints of early Indian movies have not been preserved – a mere 96 years after the first full length film by Dadasaheb Phalke (Raja Harishchandra) was released!

Here’s what prompted them:

"No prints of Alam Ara are available with the NIA. They are lost, only some still pictures and publicity material is available with them," a senior official in the ministry of information and broadcasting said.

And the NIA is planning on preserving all current and future movies from all Hindi and other language productions:

…the ministry has requested the Indian film industry to give copies of each and every film being produced in all parts of the country and those made till date to NIA, so that they can be preserved for future generations.

O well, better late than never. At least Love 2050 and Drona will be preserved for posterity (though I think Banno has done a better job at preserving Love 2050 than NIA can hope to)!


  1. Aaargh. I hope they can maintain their attention long enough to follow through on this.

    I've got to get to Bombay and start building my Film Museum.

  2. You think they may want my copies of Khandala House and Kabrastan and Band Darwaza? I have TONS of C (or lower) movies to offer :D

  3. The NFAI woke up to this 15 years ago too. And now they are waking up again?? And then will go back to sleep until the next enquiry.

    The NFAI is just across the road from FTII. And we were privileged to see a film everyday from its archives.

    I think for a long time they spent money only on acquiring world cinema mainly classics.

    I think Hindi films were a low priority.

    Also, there was a fire a few years ago, in which they lost some prints. And storing conditions were not always the best.

  4. memsaab, you do need to start your museum - and your blog has already made a beginning! :-)

    Shweta, they should be glad to get Khandala House, Kabrastan, etc. And I had no idea there were movies lower than 'C' grade! :-D

    Banno, I am so jealous of all the great oldies you must have seen! I was dependant on DoorDarshan for my dose. :-( NFAI is probably the right forum to preserve prints - but this article quotes NIA who are even more unlikely to keep up their enthusiasm.

  5. Ugh. This is so characteristic of the way our government-run organisations tend to run. My sister and I went heritage-walking yesterday in Delhi's Mehrauli area, and spent a while in the very historic Zafar Mahal, Bahadur Shah Zafar's `weekend palace' (and where he would probably have been buried if he hadn't been exiled to Burma). We couldn't see much because it was crowded with men sitting and playing cards, and boys playing gulli-danda and cricket. And this is a protected monument with an ASI guard supposedly at the gate. Yeah, right.

  6. Thats true. For all the lip-service "Indian culture" gets from people in power (and out of it) there is precious little done to preserve any tangible reminders of it! And Delhi is chock-full of lovely mausoleums, forts and mosques. I wish these precious signposts of a bygone era were better preserved and respected. That said, I thought the Qutab Minar complex was marvelously cleaned and restored, compared to what I remember from my last visit in the early 90s.

  7. I think part of the reason behind the conservation of monuments like Qutb Minar, Humayun's Tomb and the Red Fort is that they're now World Heritage sites - which doesn't, in my opinion, imply that other sites are any less historic or worthy of being preserved. When will they wake up? :(

  8. Does the "World Heritage site" label come with funding from UNESCO? That might explain their better state. The Indian govt doesnt spend much on preserving and promoting any of these sites as tourist attractions. I heard recently of Gujarat promoting Dholavira - a Harappan site (Darshit's blog has some awesome pics). I hope it starts a trend!

  9. Dholavira looks very, very interesting...I'm putting it on my list after Agra, Khajuraho, Darjeeling, Yumthang etc etc. I just hope I live to be a couple of hundred years old, I have so much to see! :-)

    I don't know if the UNESCO gives them any funding, but just the status of a World Heritage Site draws a lot more visitors, esp. foreign ones (from whom they can charge about 20 times what they charge Indians), so possibly that is an incentive.

  10. From my conservation courses in graduate school, I've got the impression that Hollywood has not worked too hard to preserve a lot of its past either, despite the obvious private funding sources it has.

    I'm not sure how to say this without sounding like a complete snob, but in the dozen or so museums I visited around India, I'd say preservation, maintenance, and actual use (by which I mean learning, engaging with ideas, inspiring, etc.) of cultural heritage is...well, not being done in museums. Broke my heart, too.

  11. Dustedoff, the higher ticket prices for foreigners can be embarassing (and very annoying, too, when you are the one footing the bill!) when one has foreign guests. It smacks a bit too much of discrimination when you read the notices clearly stating that ticket prices are different for Indians and foreigners.

    Beth, Hollywood may not have worked too hard on preservation, but its not hard to find films from 1920s onwards (some even older). For Hindi, I doubt if there are any copies of any silent films at all! As to Indian museums, what you say is very sad but true. Guess we Indians take our cultural heritage too much for granted. That said, I was surprised by what I saw in the British Museum in London. Beautiful stone carvings from Egyptian pyramids were being freely touched by all the visitors! The only artifacts properly protected from public damage seemed to be the ones the Museum had paid money to buy (as opposed to "acquisitions" during the British Empire)! ;-)

  12. Beth and Bollyviewer, I wouldn't even say most Indians take their heritage for granted - I'd say most don't even think heritage is worth preserving! The way people go about defacing and abusing heritage - cultural and natural - is simply sickening. And it's not just illiterate people: I've been on a heritage walk where a child was busy scratching his name on an old building (the library of Dara Shukoh) while his highly educated parents stood by, ignoring it all.

    Okay, getting off my soap box now.

    And yes, I completely agree with the different rates being very embarrassing. I think a better idea would be to have a single rate, but probably increased from the ridiculously low rate charged for Indians.

  13. Dustedoff, so true. Remember the Iron Pillar in Qutab Minar - there used to be a superstition that if you can put both your arms around it and have your fingers touch, then its lucky (or you will be rich, or something of that sort) and people would be embracing it all the time! As to carving hearts and names on monuments, not to mention paan-spittle - you'll find it everywhere. And its always the educated people (who make such a song-n-dance about culture and heritage) who are the worst offenders!

  14. This is an interesting discussion and I thought I would also add my little bit! The different ticket prices for foreigners and Indians at the 'heritage' sites is discriminatory and ridiculous! The only proper way of checking whether a visitor is Indian or not is by their identification/passport. And since nobody checks for that, the only way it can be ascertained if a person is Indian is by their looks! Since most 'foreigners' on these sites are of Indian origin, they can actually get past by paying a lower amount than the 'non-Indian' looking foreigners.

    I remember visiting Taj Mahal a couple of years ago (I was then an Indian passport holder). While being searched at the gates, the security personnel found a 'Lonely Planet' guide to North India in my bag. She looked up and accused me of being a foreigner since Indians never carry such guides!! Fortunately, I had my passport with me and showed it to her - she very reluctantly let me go!

    Having said all this, I do not think that increasing the ticket prices for Indians, as suggested by Dustedoff earlier, would be the answer! Everyone should be able to visit these historical sites and increasing the prices would only mean that the poorest people are excluded from such pleasures.

  15. My husband and I (both of us are Indian, and look it) got accused of being foreigners simply because we'd been chatting in English as we walked up to the ticket booth at the Purana Qila!
    I agree that increasing ticket rates will have an impact on the poorer people who'd like to visit, but at INTACH (for whom I've done quite a bit of freelance work), we've noticed that people tend to treat anything that's cheap very casually - which is why people who've paid only about Rs 10 to visit a monument have no compunctions about carving their names all over the place. Though one way of giving poorer people a chance to see a monument would be perhaps to have special `low price' or `half price' hours or days.


  16. Ruchi, lol at being considered a "foreigner" because you were carrying a guidebook! But its so true. Its just not normal to carry guidebooks or maps in India - its what foreign tourists do! When we wanted to go to an unknown location, we'd ask around if any of our friends/acquaintances knew anything. If not, we'd go in the general area and then start asking the way from people on the streets! But that was years ago - the advent of internet, and access to all the free info there, may have changed things somewhat in the last few years.

    I must say that I agree with dustedoff's suggestion that ticket prices be increased with free/low price days. These sites can provide pleasure only when they are preserved. And if they generated cash (which the government is very reluctant to provide), there could be proper maintenance, renovation and preservation.

    dustedoff, Indians are beginning to think of English as a foren language!;-) I agree with higher prices for these places, not because I think they'll induce more respectful treatment for these monuments, but because it can generate cash that can help preserve them and maintain them better. If respect were only a matter of admission price, all temples with free entry would be similarly desecrated, too!

  17. I was in the British Museum last month on a Saturday afternoon and was shocked how much touching was going on - it was in the medieval European areas that I noticed it most. They'd have to have a gianormous security staff to stop everyone in a place that big. Part of my job is getting visitors to stop touching and it's a horrendous uphill battle - and sometimes you just give up instead of hollering for the 5th time in half an hour. Sigh. I wish people understood how much damage they were doing - I don't think most people have any idea, and if they did know they would stop.

  18. It's been ages since I went to the British Museum, but don't they cordon off stuff? I'd gone to the V&A a couple of years back, and I remember being very impressed with the way they'd displayed the Chinese and Japanese galleries - everything in glass cases or otherwise safely out of bounds, but (just to satisfy those who feel the urge to touch something), a large Ming vase meant specifically for `feeling'. They had instructions that you should take off all rings or other paraphernalia from your hands, and lightly stroke the porcelain... an interesting concept.

  19. Beth, surely exhibits can be cordoned off and smaller objects placed in glass cases - that would save the staff having to physically keep people off! I saw the touching in the Egyptian section where apart from the mummies, everything was open, and people were freely touching thousands of years old carvings that the Egyptian tombs had preserved till a couple of hundred years ago.

    dustedoff, the big stone carvings, sarcophagi and statues from Egyptian tombs were not cordoned off. V&A seems to have a much better idea. I'd love to touch an object a human hand fashioned hundreds or thousands of years ago, too, and only the thought of contributing to its deterioration keeps me off!

  20. Different ticket prices for locals vs foreigners is very common in many countries - not India alone.

    In Thailand the ticket prices for any place for foreigners is about 4 times the local price and they make no qualms about it.

    I guess millions of Indians are poor and so a low and diff price for them does make sense. However a lot of middle class and wealthy Indians tend to get the benefit in the process.

    I have noticed during my many visits to India that a lot of heritage buildings (not historical monuments) are being demolished to build shopping malls, office complexes etc. What a pity. No regulations and even if there are, no compliance measures - above all no sense of pride in heritage matters

  21. Anonymous, different ticket prices based on nationality (in this case it works out as difference based on skin color) is discrimination, no matter how many countries practice it! But ya, it is sad how little time, effort and money is spent on preserving priceless old structures.