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India’s film heritage ‘lies in shambles’, govt set to probe own preservation scheme

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The decision comes after a team visited Pune to inspect the scheme’s implementation, and found a whole host of problems despite the expenditure of Rs 30 crore.

New Delhi: The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has decided to order an inquiry into its ambitious film archiving project — the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) — after it is believed to have found that the scheme had been poorly implemented.

According to highly placed sources, the decision to set up a probe was taken after an official team visited the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune earlier this month, and allegedly found multiple lapses in its implementation.

Official committees — comprising senior officials from the ministry as well as film preservation experts such as Shaji Karun — will be constituted to carry out the inquiry, ThePrint has learnt.

Reached for his comment, NFAI director Prakash Magdum said he was not aware of the inquiry and would not be able to comment.

What is the NFHM?

The NFHM aims to preserve, restore, digitise and archive films and filmic material — such as posters, photos, song booklets, pamphlets, press clippings, slides, transparencies and glass negatives. The mission is being implemented through NFAI — a unit under the I&B ministry.

An amount of Rs 597.41 crore had been earmarked for the NFHM, work on which had to be undertaken between 2014-15 and 2020-21. NFAI sources said an expenditure of over Rs 30 crore had been made so far.

Last year, the I&B ministry launched a film condition assessment project — as the first phase of the NFHM — which aimed to assess and preserve almost 1.32 lakh film reels at the NFAI.

The mission also aimed to digitise 1,050 feature films and 1,200 shorts, construct archival and preservation facilities in dust-free, low-humidity, and low-temperature conditions at the NFAI campus. It planned to hold training workshops and courses in the fields of conservation, preservation, and archiving, in coordination with international agencies.

What the team ‘found’ in Pune

Sources said the team that visited the NFAI allegedly found poor archival conditions for the films, ranging from non-maintenance of storage vaults and log books on the use of vaults, to storing heritage films in rusty tins.

The team also allegedly found a lack of effort from the NFAI in the storage and maintenance of several pre-Independence-era films produced by the Films Division as news reels, documentaries and non-features, and found a limited number of vaults for their preservation, despite no dearth of funds for the purpose. Sources claimed films by the Children’s Film Society of India and the National Film Development Corporation face the same plight.

The team has also sought information on several missing films and details of the Rs 30 crore spent on the mission so far.

It also allegedly found that there was no dedicated team to name the films that were to be classified as heritage films and prioritise their acquisition faster.

Renowned film-maker Jahnu Barua, a member of the high-level committee overseeing the project’s implementation, told ThePrint that the inquiry would help plug the gaps.

“It’s a vast, first-of-its-kind project and there are many trial-and-error (issues) in the project. Hence, there could be certain lacunae in the implementation bit,” he said. “There are many experts involved in the project in many different aspects. An inquiry would help understand the lacunae better and find solutions to the issues.”

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