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NFAI might have misplaced 9,200 film prints including Pather Panchali, Mother India

According to a report, films including iconic films like Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955), Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker (1970) and Guru Dutt's Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) are 'not physically present' with the National Film Archive of India.

Our Correspondent

The National Film Archive of India (NFAI) seems to have failed in doing its fundamental job. In a recent report by the daily, The Indian Express, almost 51,500 cans of film have been reported as 'not present' in the archives, amounting to a loss of almost 9,200 movie prints from Indian cinema history.

The newspaper has accessed a 2012 survey report by Cameo Digital Systems Pvt Ltd., through an RTI (Right To Information) Act.

This list of missing reels includes several important films of Indian cinematic history like Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955), its sequel Aparajito (1956), and Charulata (1964), Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957), Raj Kapoor's Awara (1951) and Mera Naam Joker (1970), Mrinal Sen's Bhuvan Shome (1969), Guru Dutt's Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and several other iconic films.

The archives is also missing several films acquired from other institutions through loans, and those bought from collectors. These include Sergei Eisenstein's iconic Russian revolution silent film, Battleship Potemkin (1925), Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) and Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962) and Andrez Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds (1958).

Other than these feature films, several reels of silent films, news reels, and historic footage of pre-Independence era have been found missing — Mahatma Gandhi's first visit to Paris, the Indian National Congress congregation in Karachi, and former US president Richard Nixon's speech on his visit to India in 1969, are a few of them.

The mismanagement came to light when Cameo Digital Systems, assigned to conduct a summary inventory of the archives found that almost 9,200 films listed in the NFAI accession inventory were not present at the storage facilities of the archives.

The report also quoted NFAI director Prakash Magdum blaming poor record-keeping and shortage of staff for the 'mismatch' present in the data.

Cinestaan.com attempted to contact Magdum, however, he was unavailable for a comment.

The NFAI was established in 1964 by the government of India to acquire and preserve for posterity works from, and related to, Indian cinema. Started from scratch by the late PK Nair, the archive was the first repository of films for film students, and filmmakers till the early 2000s. The archive claims to house a repository of more than 1.3 lakh films.

However, post the retirement of PK Nair in the 1990s, filmmakers have often complained of the lackadaisical approach towards archiving.

Speaking with Cinestaan.com in April this year, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, director of the Film Heritage Foundation of India, mentioned that it was a cultural malaise. He said, "In India, primarily. Over the years we have dealt with cinema as an entertainment. We have never given her its due. We never talk about the recognition cinema needs to have as an art form. It stems from that...Cinema is a new form of art which has evolved in this century. If we would treat it as an important aspect of our culture, and our heritage, and our social fabric, I think we would be thinking differently."

In July 2016, The Hindu, a daily, had reported that the NFAI had received almost Rs600 crore in funding from the government of India to acquire, process, and archive films across a period of 5 years.

Another report in the Indian Express also quoted an NFAI official, in anonymity, saying, "The level of neglect is such that although the reels have been with NFAI for several years, there is no proper record of the titles of these films. There is a possibility that rare ‘gems’ of Indian and world cinema could be lying there, possibly ruined by now."

As of now, there is no information as to how the NFAI plans to recover these films, or prevent any such damage from occurring in the future.