'What an incredible opportunity to bring back one of the greatest actors of Indian cinema on the big screen.'
Over a decade ago Shivendra Singh Dungarpur connected with Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation in Bologna, where he learned that the foundation had been trying to get the reels of Uday Shankar's classic Kalpana (1948) out of India for restoration.
He managed to get the cans of the films sent to Italy. The restored film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, where Dungarpur walked the red carpet with Amala Shankar, Uday Shankar's wife.
The restored print of Kalpana starts with a brief clip where Scorsese thanks Dungarpur for his help in acquiring the prints.
He then worked with the foundation to facilitate the restoration of the Sri Lankan film-maker Lester James Peries' Nidhanaya (1972). The restored version premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2013.
That is when Dungarpur realised how respectfully the foundation had been restoring films from around the world and giving them a new life.
Dungarpur became an activist promoting the cause of film restoration in India.
He founded the Film Heritage Foundation in 2014 and now has been in the forefront of taking restored Indian classics to festivals around the world.
In October, Dungarpur organised a retrospective of Amitabh Bachchan's films on the screen legend's 80th birthday. This month, he has organised a retrospective of Dilip Kumar's films on the late matinee idol's centenary. Mohammad Yusuf Sarwar Khan or Dilip Kumar as we all know him would have turned 100 on December 11, 2022.
"I was shocked to discover that many of Dilip Kumar's great films survived only on low-resolution formats that could not be projected on the big screen," Shivendra Singh Dungarpur tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Aseem Chhabra in the first of a two-part interview.
How did you think of a film festival of some of Amitabh Bachchan's classic films, moving from classic art-house/parallel cinema films to commercial films?
At the Film Heritage Foundation, we strongly believe that watching films in the cinema on the big screen and the shared audience experience is integral to the art and culture of film.
Amitabh Bachchan's 80th birthday seemed a perfect occasion not just to celebrate the icon, but also to demonstrate that his ageless films will get people back into the cinemas.
We wanted to change the perception that film heritage and classic cinema are dated and old, and should be confined to retrospectives at festivals and cultural institutions.
I ran the idea of a Bachchan festival by Ajay Bijli of PVR Cinemas.
He was open to it, but asked me how I was going to manage the copyright holders and if we should just do a couple of screenings in Mumbai.
No one had faith that there would be an audience especially given the current slump in the industry and that these films were easily available on YouTube.
I finally convinced him of our vision to make it a people's festival that reached every part of the country at an affordable price.
Finally we agreed to show these films over four days in 18 cities and 25 cinemas from cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Lucknow to smaller towns like Kolhapur and Raipur, making it the biggest festival that the country has ever seen.
I had hoped there would be a good audience, but I did not expect the hysteria and the craze to watch these films.
Most screenings were booked out and PVR has told us that they will need to add more cities and cinemas by public demand.
People from all over the country were calling and writing asking for tickets.
We had enquiries from many other countries. So many filmmakers, actors and celebrities called us to organise tickets. And there were so many young people in the audience watching these films for the first time.
People in the audience were clapping, whistling, singing, dancing, crying and sending us these amazing videos.
What were the challenges of organising the Bachchan festival? The films I suppose were restored by the studios/producers.
It's been a mammoth task finding the best available material of these films, converting them into a format that can be shown in cinemas, and convincing the producers and copyright holders.
I was so keen to screen Zanjeer, but I just couldn't convince the copyright holder.
These films have been digitised and restored by the copyright holders, but they are not restored to the standard of how we restored Thamp and Kummatty.
We opened the festival with a screening of Mili.
Jaya Bachchan had told me that she would drop in to watch the film for a while. She came to the screening with her granddaughter Navya Naveli.
It was a full house and I remember being a little nervous about the audience reaction to the film as it was the first screening and Jayaji was there. But it was amazing.
The audience of all ages was hooked. Jayaji and Navya stayed for the entire screening.
At the end of the screening the audience gave her a standing ovation.
She was very moved and she mentioned that this was the first time that she was watching the film on the big screen.
The next day I got a message from Navya saying she had no idea what powerful actors her grandparents were and that she wanted to watch as many films as she could during the festival.
Abhishek (Bachchan) came to watch Don and he too said that it was a very emotional experience for him.
What were the challenges of organising the Dilip Kumar retrospective? What is the condition of most of his films?
Dilip Kumar turning 100! What an incredible opportunity to bring back one of the greatest actors of Indian cinema on the big screen.
We could think of no better way to celebrate this milestone than a festival of his films back in theatres.
I was so excited thinking of how many of his films I could curate to mark the occasion. But I was shocked to discover that many of his great films survived only on low-resolution formats that could not be projected on the big screen.
I cobbled together these films with great difficulty. Many people asked why some of their favourite Dilip Kumar films were not included.
We found that very few films of Dilip Kumar could be projected on the big screen.
We hope this will be a wake-up call to film-makers and producers to allot the required funding and resources to preserve and restore their films before it is too late.
Which four films of his are you showing?
We have curated four of Dilip Kumar's popular films that showcase his versatility.
Audiences across the country will have the opportunity to see the icon back on the big screen in these landmark films: Aan (1952), Devdas (1955), Ram Aur Shyam (1967) and Shakti (1982)
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com