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‘Chhello Show has a sincerity and innocence that celebrates the power of cinema’: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Print edition : Nov 23, 2022 T+T-

‘Chhello Show has a sincerity and innocence that celebrates the power of cinema’: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur. | Photo Credit: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The filmmaker talks about film preservation and his association with India’s Oscars entry this year.

Since 2014, Film Heritage Foundation, an organisation set up by acclaimed filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, has been performing the crucial task of conservation, preservation, and restoration of moving images, as well as promoting interdisciplinary study of cinema. At a time when a large number of prints by pioneering filmmakers have been lost forever, Dungarpur’s work in preserving the legacy of cinema is of paramount importance.

Most recently, Film Heritage Foundation’s contribution to cinema was acknowledged by eminent director Pan Nalin, whose film Chhello Show, or “Last Film Show”, was selected as India’s entry for the 95th Academy Awards. Chhello Show thanks Film Heritage Foundation in its credits.

In Nalin’s own words: “My movie Chhello Show is about film, and as we all know, films are about telling stories….Over the years so many stories were recorded on celluloid and these stories are our history….For us, it was normal to associate with Film Heritage Foundation, who has been doing such amazing work in preserving films. Preserving films is like preserving our own cultural heritage and intellectual heritage.”

In an exclusive interview with Frontline, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur talks about his association with Chhello Show and also other important projects that his organisation is currently working on.

Chhello Show has thanked you and Film Heritage Foundation in the credits. Please share the story behind this. Also, please tell us of your involvement with the making of the movie.

Pan Nalin’s film is a homage to cinema and to celluloid that also weaves in the tragic destruction of our celluloid film heritage. The message of the film dovetails with the core belief that cinema is an art form, an integral part of our social and cultural heritage, and a visual document of the times we live in, which makes it imperative to preserve our films. Nalin himself believes in the work we do and has given us his film Samsara to preserve. So, it was but natural for us to collaborate on various aspects of the film that underlines the loss of our cinematic heritage and how important it is to preserve it.

I established Film Heritage Foundation when I realised the colossal loss of our film heritage. We have lost not just films on celluloid but have let go of the entire infrastructure that supported this artistic medium—from cameras to labs and projectors. Pan’s film has told the story of the end of celluloid evocatively.

What tipped the scales in favour of Chhello Show over the other shortlisted movies?

I feel that Chhello Show has a sincerity and innocence that celebrates the power of cinema to inspire and elevate the lives of ordinary people. The setting of the film in a small village, the cast of non-professional actors and the universality of themes that the film explores, and most importantly the simplicity of the film, is, I think, what captured the emotions and imagination of the jury.

Film Heritage Foundation has been doing the crucial work of restoring and preserving old Indian films. Please share with us some of the projects you are working on.

Our most recent film restoration was G. Aravindan’s 1978 film, Thampu. It was selected for a red-carpet world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It’s wonderful to see how a world-class restoration of a beautiful film like Thampu has given it a new life. So many curators from around the world who watched the film in Cannes and then at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna have selected it to be screened at festivals this year.

They include The Film Restored Film Heritage Festival in Berlin, the London Film Festival, Electric Shadows Festival in Belgium, and the Museum of Modern Art’s festival To Save and Project. And I am sure we will get many more requests. The year before we partnered with Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation to restore Aravindan’s film Kummatty (1979), which is also being screened in festivals around the world.

Our restoration projects in the pipeline include: legendary Manipuri filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma’s acclaimed film Ishanou (1990) and Nirad Mohapatra’s Odia film Maya Miriga (1984), arguably the most feted film in the history of Odia cinema.

Film Heritage Foundation will be conducting its seventh annual Film Preservation & Restoration Workshop India in association with the International Federation of Film Archives in Mumbai this December. We have been conducting this week-long intensive workshop in different cities across the country since 2015.

These workshops, comprising lectures and practical sessions, cover a wide variety of topics associated with film preservation, including film identification, repair and treatment, digitisation, digital preservation and restoration, paper, photograph and 3-D object conservation, sound capture and restoration, archive management and access.

The course is taught by an international faculty of experts from premier archives and museums around the world such as the British Film Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and Deutsche Kinemathek.

These workshops are open to anyone in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Over the years they have had a tremendous impact, building a local resource of film archivists and creating a movement for film preservation not just in India, but in our neighbouring countries.

Film Heritage Foundation has partnered with the prestigious Festival des 3 Continents to showcase an extensive retrospective of classic Indian cinema, which will be shown at the 44th edition of the festival that will take place in Nantes, France, from November 18 to 27, 2022.

We continue to expand our collections of films as well as film-related memorabilia. Film Heritage Foundation has a growing film collection, close to 600 titles now on 35 mm, 16 mm, Super 8 and 8 mm formats. Our collections include important historical footage dating from the 1930s and 1940s, including footage of the freedom movement and rare home movies of the pre-Independence era that are preserved in a temperature-controlled storage facility.

The foundation has a rapidly expanding archive of memorabilia like posters, photographs, scripts, lobby cards, song booklets, and artefacts of eminent film personalities like A.R. Kardar, Sohrab Modi, Raj Kapoor, Kidar Sharma, Saeed Mirza, Shyam Benegal, G. Aravindan, V.K. Murthy, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sadhana, J.B.H. Wadia, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Girish Kasaravalli, Film News Anandan, Goutam Ghose, Govind Nihalani, Jamuna J., Kundan Shah, Aruna Raje, Ashim Ahluwalia, Pran, and others.

The collection comprises over 30,000 photographs, 10,000 photo negatives, 15,000 posters, 10,000 lobby cards, 15,000 newspaper articles, 5,000 lobby cards, 6,000 song booklets, and numerous 3-D objects.

Most recently, we acquired all the films of producer G.P. Sippy to preserve, including Sholay, Shaan, Seeta Aur Geeta, and Andaaz.

Your organisation also played a role in the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent movie, The Lodger (1927). Is there any particular foreign project you are currently associated with?

Film Heritage Foundation is collaborating with a German film archive for their restoration project of two films shot in Udaipur in 1938.

Last year we saw a message that Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum e.V. was searching for elements for the films Der Tiger Von Eschnapur/Tiger of Eschnapur (1938) and Das Indische Grabmal/The Indian Tomb (1938) directed by Richard Eichberg. As it happened, we had digitised the nitrate film reels of these films that had been lying in the possession of the royal family of Udaipur.

We presumed that since the films were shot in Udaipur, the prints must have been handed over to the royal family by the director. Decades later, the family discovered the films at their palace and handed over the prints to us for digitisation and preservation. Unfortunately, the complete films do not survive. We spoke to the family about the restoration and they agreed to share the 4K scanned material with the German archive to enable them to complete their restoration of the two films.

The restored films were recently screened in Budapest at the Classic Film Marathon festival and we hope to screen them in India soon.

We are also very excited to be collaborating with international partners on The Somali Dervish Restoration Project. The Somali Dervish (1985) is an epic film directed by Said Salah and Amar Sneh, one of the few feature films to be produced in Somalia, which until recently was believed to be a lost film.

It has been four years since your last film, Czechmate: In Search of Jiri Menzel. Can we expect a new film anytime soon? If so, please share some details.

There are several ideas I have in mind that I am in the process of developing. I have an idea to shoot a film with Wim Wenders and I am also in talks with a photographer for a collaborative project exploring archives. As far as a feature is concerned, I am exploring a combination of fiction and non-fiction.

My projects develop organically as for me it is always the process and the journey that excites me and not the result as was the case with CzechMate which was eight years in the making and an unforgettable experience to meet and spend time with the extraordinary artists of the Czechoslovakian New Wave.

All of them are gone but my film is a testimony to an incredible movement that lived for a short time in history.