The Kerala government at last wakes up to preserving its movie legacy, plans to start a film archive

Inside the National Film Archives, Pune
Inside the National Film Archives, Pune

83 years after the successful screening of the first Malayalam film, Kerala will at last get a film archive to call its own, if the State government has its way. But it is still in the planning stage🙂 According to the press release that I came across, and I believe this was first put across during the recently concluded 17th IFFK in Thiruvananthapuram, the plan is to have “an archive of Malayalam classic films in the wintry environs of Munnar, mobile digital movie theatres, and panchayat-level facilities for mini film festivals”, but it is the “Archive” part that excites and saddens me at the same time. Let’s face it, a state body is the last thing that any worthwhile keeper of treasures pat would look upto in preserving the legacies for the coming generations.

Film Cans Storage at NFAI Pune
Credit & Rights : The Celluloid Man Crew

Minister for Cinema, K.B. Ganesh Kumar, has gone on record requesting the Kerala public to donate surviving film prints, Beta copies, publicity stills, song books, hand bills – in short anything and everything that is associated with the film culture of Kerala to be entrusted to the care of the state archive, who would take care of it for the future. Really ?

The country’s premier archive, the National Film Archive of India, that came to being in February, 1963, and then subsequently moved around till it got its own premises, even with its limbs tied in bureaucratic red-tape, had been literally nurtured by a lifetime of passion invested in it by its founder-director, the legendary PK Nair, India’s own Celluloid Man.  The latter is the seminal documentary made on him, probably the only documentary to be made on a film historian, and aptly titled The Celluloid Man. The NFAI and PK Nair has by now become two faces of the Indian celluloid film, so to speak, for the world’s movie historians. According to an interview given in 2006 by the then director of NFAI, KS Sasidharan, the National Film Archive proudly took care of 16,000 + films in its nitrate vaults and the other temperature controlled ones for posterity, and it must have only grown in the last 6 years. { Isn’t it a matter of pride that the most popular names associated with archiving our celluloid creations for posterity are all from God’s own country? Strangely, their domain of professional activity and expertise have also been OUTSIDE the state🙂 }.

The online presence of the NFAI is a horrendous, cringe-worthy experience. You would be amazed that road kills like these masquerade for websites for most of the central government outfits. I just tried searching for the Malayalam titles preserved there out of the 16,000 + titles and guess what it told me ? Its  given below.

Year of Release

Movie Title

Director

1954 Snehaseema S.S. Rajan
1955 C.I.D. M. Krishnan Nair
1965 Shyamalachechi P. Bhaskaran
1965 Sarpakkadu J.D. Thottan
1968 Padunna Puzha M. Krishnan Nair
1972 Pani Theeraatha Veedu K.S. Sethumadhavan
1978 Ashwathama K.R. Mohanan
1981 Aparna Padmakumar
1986 Amma Ariyan John Abraham
1986 Panchagni T. Hariharan
1989 1921 I.V. Sasi
1991 Abhayam Sivan
1992 Swaroopam K.R. Mohanan
1993 Gouri Sivaprasad
1993 Sopanam Jayaraj
1999 Jalamarmaram T.K. Rajeev Kumar
2000 Sayanam M.P. Sukumaran Nair
2000 Saayaahnam R. Sarath
2000 Oru Cheru Punchiri M.T. Vasudevan Nair

I am sure they have pretty much a reasonably well-oiled documentation and archival process going on in the real world, but THIS is the impression that NFAI’s website gives to any cineaste or  serious student on Indian cinema !

PK Nair -  India's Celluloid Man
Pix Rights : The Celluloid Man Crew

Plagued by bureaucratic apathy, indifference and budget crunches, there is a tiny band of loyalists, working against every known challenge that could be thrown at them, in this age, in this process, and they have been at it for the past 5 decades ! And it is to this scenario that our government takes its baby steps, trying to archive the land’s movie history, 80 years since it all started ! This is what disorients me. True, an initiative of this nature, though 8 decades late, is a hugely welcome move, but the avenues and the channels that would facilitate its archival collections is what worries me. And it is in an environment that is a hundred times more toxic in terms of process apathy and pure inertia that we intend to build an institution that will preserve an already fragile set of content for posterity.

Forget our Indianness, us Malayalis have to be one of the most dispassionate, insensitive and callous people  for whom heritage or anything for that matter from the past is something that should be travelled out of this land and be “Oohed” and “Aahed” upon, but never in our own backyard. And specifically, these are my apprehensions when it comes to this initiative :

1.Sourcing of  old films and related memorabilia.

Currently, to the best of my knowledge, other than than a reasonable handful languishing as actual reel footage in dusty, musty corners associated with the original producers and warehouses of production/distribution centres long folded up and disappeared – the majority of the source tapes exist as Umatic tapes or VHS  (thank God for the insane popularity of the VCRs in the 80’s and 90’s in Kerala ), and these are highly sought after, both by private collectors and those who have also a made a business out of it. The former collect them for the pure love of having a copy of that in their collection, the latter do it for the same, but with a commercial intent attached,   in the process  becoming the point of contact for established VCD producers who digitise these copies as crappy VCDs, hack away content to fit the standard 2 VCD storage space and sell it to you for Rs 50 on an average. It is this ecosystem the government would be reaching out to, and it remains to be seen whether they would respond in a manner the state envisions – for the greater good, you see. The private collectors would sit down and think very hard when it comes to parting/donating sourced copies of movies that they have hunted down using their own resources, restoring it at their own expense and  lovingly preserved for their own viewing pleasure in their times. For the business-minded, it would be the “right price” the state would be willing to pay. I am not ruling out the “Hand of Generosity” in this regard, but it would be a rarity.

2.Maintenance of the Films and Memorabilia.

Archival Data updation of film records at the NFAI, Pune
Archival Data updation of film records at the NFAI, Pune

It should be Malayalam cinema’s good fortune that PK Nair is now available for guidance, now that he is actively retired in official capacity, for building our archive, with the best technology and resources now available, it would just what is needed to bring it to fruition. But going by the state government’s track record in taking care of our heritage, I wonder. Normally, for a venture of this magnitude, one would atleast make a conducive environment for the objectives that they have listed out, starting with a four walls and a roof over it, before inviting “media donations.” I wonder where they would store these till the actual building comes up, and who would take care of it in the interim period ?For those who have invested a lifetime in compiling and collating them and are generous enough to give them away for enriching the sensibilities of  future generations , it would be heartbreaking to see them stacked and piled in cupboards and empty rooms rented out as a temporary abode for the initiative with zero accountability.

3. Accessibility to the Film Archive.

I just can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Munnar has been decided upon for the premises and the facility for the film archives of Kerala. Going forward, the majority of the databank that would store the archival media would be digitised and that would require temeperature controlled environments, regardless of whether its at Palakkad, Munnar or Trivandrum. The state-of-the-art storage facility for color film at the NFAI, according to KS Sasidharan, ” maintains a temperature of 2°C with a relative humidity of 25°C% + – 5°C% round the clock which is ideally suited for preservation of colour material on long-term basis“. Locating it in the suburbs of the capital city would have had a huge advantage with respect to its location, which would also facilitate a huge inflow of  interested souls to the facility, which would also deem well if the State Film Archives devise programs and activities that could also “convert” this steady volume into a revenue stream too, if handled well. If they had a strong, updated online presence unlike the trainwreck that is the National Film Archives website, that in itself could turn out to be a serious source of income for those who would want to access the archives information through remote access, after paying at an hourly rate online, at the site itself. Even while I am typing this out, a part of me deep down is chuckling at the way it sounds – almost like a fairy – tale. But one can hope !

The government should bring in a legislation that would make the Mandatory Depository System a rule rather than a voluntary act, which would ensure one copy of their production, from every producer going to the Vaults, along with the issuance of Clearance by the State government for public viewing and exhibition of the movie. Just like how the US built the Library of Congress.

Willing to donate ? Here is how.

By the way, anyone willing to donate relevant media for the Kerala State Film Archives could either contact the organisers on phone at 0471 – 2310323 or mail them at officekeralafilm@gmail.com.

 

8 thoughts on “The Kerala government at last wakes up to preserving its movie legacy, plans to start a film archive

  1. Great proposal, a really tiresome endeavour, a historical duty, will Ganesh Kumar be brave enough to proceed further
    History is to be preserved and respected, to create the future
    Let us initiate efforts to procure Vigatha Kumaran’s print from somewhere even if we have to somehow make contact with Melbourne, the place where late Sudharam Daniel’s (eldest son of J.C.Daniel) wife and daughter reside.They may be having a print, as Sudharan might have migrated with the same as the movie is on him (Lost Child) as the central character, he played the role (first child artist in malayalam movies)
    Let the print be procured for the posterity and let the Govt help in the process
    May God guide us in doing it

  2. It is so sad that we lost a lot of films.Old movies of Sathyan,Jayan,Nazir and other actors should be preserved..For a documentary on Jayan,a dance scene in Garjanam was not available.really,it was a beautiful dance..and two fight scenes also…it is a loss forever..(hope somebody will find it…),.

  3. My heart breaks looking at those tins of film exposed to the elements! And as to dumping unwanted movies into the sea…. 😦 what is there to say…

    From the bottom of my heart I hope something useful comes of it.

  4. Thanks CM for this update!! Had heard about it through media and friends!!! I have mixed feelings towards this news!!! My number one concern is, how is it going to benefit true lovers of old Malayalam classics? Just by collecting and archiving alone will not add any value to the treasure. What they need to do is recover and release at least a limited edition in the DVD format. Let the prices be high or maybe they can even make it made to order!!
    Have done a lot of search in the UAE, where most of the classics have been released in umatic or VHS format a few years back. And I was really shocked to hear that all these copies were either dumped in the sea or have been sold as trash!!! Can you believe it? When enquired they said they did it since they were facing copyright issues!!!
    The second concern is recovering these classics from the reels. I believe the cost involved in polishing and recovering data involves a lot of finances!!
    From what I gather, Doordarshan and Asianet have most of these movies in the beta format or whatever!! All Ganesh Kumar has to do is get it from there!! I hope he does something… and try to reach it to the Public!!!!

    1. Dear Viju,

      “copies were either dumped in the sea or have been sold as trash?” dear God ! How could they ? All this over copyright issues? Issues have to be sorted out, not callously trampled over, isn’t it? I can only repeat Dear God over and over.I think it would be easier collating archival content from general public that trying to retrieve it from the Trivandrum Doordarshan’s digital (?) archives🙂 On second thoughts, I don’t even think they would have the faintest clue as to what exactly they have in their archives. Thanks, cinematters

    2. getting a film from asianet is not that easy viju bhai… it is easy to to say GET A COPY FROM ASIANET… but in reality if you ever try your luck in their office.. you will understand it clearly… i always believe main source of getting OLD MALAYALAM FILMS is through old VHS which is not easy to find out but NOT IMPOSSIBLE.. and about the idea put forward by GANESH KUMAR.. its a good attempt.. but success will be much depended on the availability of these copies or negatives.. almost 50% or even more negatives of old films were lost decades ago.

      i also heard that govt has a plan to make this films available for public through internet and other ways.. those who want to see a particular film will have to pay a sum as deposit to govt and see the movie through their account or DTH.

  5. wisdom dawned too late upon the Govt. I am also happy that Shri. Ganesh Kumar has gone on record asking for prints of old movies for preservation. I had earlier written about the attempt made by Shri. R. Gopalakrishnan to preserve our first studio Sarada Vilasam and what happened to it. Kerala Chalachitra Academy didn’t have an office of its own and Shri. Gopalakrishnan requested the then Govt. to buy Sarada Vilsaom for hosting the office. nobody bothered…and ultimately the said building itself was demolished.
    Some time back I had asked Gopalakrishnan Sir about what he plans to do with his awesome colelction of Malayalam movies, books and magazines. He said that he is open to anything but giving it to the Govt. What guarantee is there that the same will be respected, preserved or at least appreciated???

    1. “Some time back I had asked Gopalakrishnan Sir about what he plans to do with his awesome colelction of Malayalam movies, books and magazines. He said that he is open to anything but giving it to the Govt. What guarantee is there that the same will be respected, preserved or at least appreciated???” That is exactly my main apprehension about this State gesture, dear Narayan. Every historical item in a collector’s archive has an equally inspiring tale of love, history and affection behind it. And the State machinery has time and again proved that when it comes to history, it just doesn’t subscribe to any of these. We will wait and see. Thanks, cinematters

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