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Interview Hindi Tamil

PIFF 2018: Difficult to find and train archivists, restorers, says Mohan Krishnan

Mohan, head of corporate communications at the Prasad Group, which preserves film negatives, speaks about the major hurdles in film archiving and restoration.

Mohan Krishnan (Photo:PIFF)

Suparna Thombare

Mohan Krishnan, head of corporate communications, Prasad Group, which runs the Prasad Film Labs, gave a presentation on the process and importance of film restoration and archiving of print and videos, not just of cinema but also of home videos, new reels, print and publicity material, etc at the 16th Pune International Film Festival.

After the talk, Mohan spoke exclusively with Cinestaan.com on the hurdles one has to overcome to preserve India's cinematic culture and heritage.

Prasad Film Labs, which has been processing films for over three decades now, has tons of original negatives preserved in its vaults as most filmmakers have shown no inclination to pick them up and preserve them on their own. Only some have officially entrusted the laboratory with the responsibility and paid for its services.

During the presentation, Mohan spoke of how, despite digitization of films, the original negatives remain priceless.

“Technology is ever changing," he said. "We have gone from SD to HD and now to 4K. And need to go back to the original negatives each time to upgrade the quality based on available technology. You cannot use the digital copy to upgrade."

Speaking about the burden on Prasad Labs and other such archiving organizations, Mohan said, "When we kept the negatives of the films and preserved them, those people [the producers of the films] were not paying for it. How do we look after them?"

These films need to be preserved in controlled environments, checked on from time to time, and treated for damage and weathering based on their condition.

Mohan said filmmakers need to focus on how they are going to preserve their work from the moment they set out to make it.

"You make a film, it should be your responsibility to pass it on to your children and grandchildren," he said. "It's a basic responsibility. How long can we be running the AC and bear the cost for it? You know how hot and humid Mumbai and Chennai are. Films get damaged so easily. They need to move to private archives or the national archive or wherever they deem fit. Or just digitize it and say I don’t want anything to do with the original negatives."

Mohan, however, pointed out that one major problem is that most of the producers don't have the money required for the restoration and preservation. "It is very easy to blame them," he said. "But a lot of the older films are available in pirated format. So where will the producers get the money to restore their films or preserve the negatives? It’s a multi-faceted problem."

Preservation of film costs a lot of money. Restoration is also very expensive. It takes anywhere from Rs50,000 to Rs5 crore to restore a negative, depending on its condition. And Mohan said that in his experience the average cost comes to about Rs10 lakh.

At times the cost also depends on the importance of the film in question. "In India, it also depends on the title," he said. "Somebody asked us a very important question. Are you charging us more because it is a Sivaji Ganesan film? This question, however, does not arise anywhere else. Only in India this happens."

It would help, however, if filmmakers pay for the services, he said: "They [producers and directors] should  pay. Film archiving and restoration is expensive. If we do it cheaply or free we can only do very basic things."

Why not build a foundation that could pool resources to restore important films of Indian cinema? Or tie up with American or other foundations across the world that have more resources? For example, recently Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project, under the Film Foundation, signed a letter of agreement formalizing its partnership on the African Film Heritage Project. 

"Funding is a problem," Mohan agreed. "Martin Scorsese started a foundation and it gets funds from so many people. So they are able to do the work. We are talking about a different part of the world. They have plenty of resources. Here we are struggling to make a living. Where do you have the time and money to put into film preservation?"

Another big hurdle is the shortage of trained personnel. Mohan said it is difficult to find people to be trained as archivists and restorers. “We find it very difficult to find people and train them, because it is a very monotonous job, and nobody wants to do it," he said. "You don’t get people to do it easily. They do it for six months and they tire."

To complicate matters, there is no formal technical training in restoration available at the film institutes in the country as it is not financially viable for the institutes to offer such a course or for students to take up this profession.

"We are forced to have only in-house training," he said. "Insititutes don’t want to train them because nobody wants to pay for such a course. It’s not exactly a moneyspinner, this job. So we have to train our own people and hope they stay on. These are also low-end guys. We are struggling with this right now."

The National Film Archive of India held a 10-day film preservation workshop last year where international experts were brought in to provide training. But this is not enough. A lot more needs to be done to have more trained personnel, who also have an aesthetic sense, Mohan said.

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Pune International Film Festival