Lost for decades, film found in dusty, rusty can and restored

Samudra Gupta Kashyap Posted: Jan 29, 2013 at 0339 hrs
Guwahati An Assamese film from 1952, the ninth in the state’s history, had gone “missing” for over 40 years before the only remaining print was rediscovered by the filmmaker’s family in a rusty metal can in a remote village. Now, about 85 per cent of the film has been digitally restored.

Runumi, made by Suresh Chandra Goswami, a cultural personality and satriya dance exponent who died in 1984, was believed lost since 1967. His daughter Dolly Borpujari, who played the role of young Runumi, managed to trace its only remaining print in a village in Sonitpur district, about 300km from Guwahati.

“We were looking for the film for so many decades. I had heard from my father that one my uncles had taken a print for screening in tea estates in Sonitpur around 1967. In 2010, my cousins Bhabani and Amiya finally located the print lying in a storehouse in their ancestral home in a village,” said Dolly Borpujari.

It was her son, film critic Utpal Borpujari, who took the print to the National Film Archives of India in Pune for restoration and preservation. “It took more than two years of painstaking work for NFAI to get the major portions of the film back into shape,” Utpal Borpujari said. “Whatever could be saved and restored is incidentally in quite good condition, especially because black-and-white film degenerates slower than colour prints.” The NFAI, he said, could salvage about 85 per cent of the film from a soiled, dusty print that had fungus marks almost all over, with emulsion peeled off at places.

“The restoration process was a huge challenge as the condition of the print was very poor,” said Prashant Pathrabe, director of NFAI. “The scanning had to be done at a very slow pace, five to six frames per second. Damaged frames had to be corrected from adjacent frames, which consumed a lot of time and energy, with the project ultimately taking about 1,650 manhours to achieve a reasonably good visual quality for viewing,” Pathrabe said. The NFAI spent about Rs 6.5 lakh in restoring the film, which now has a lot of historical value, especially as Indian cinema is celebrating its centenary.

The film, which was based on an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play The Warriors of Hegleland, had met with a hurdle when the Assam government had reportedly ordered a “verbal ban” on it for reasons not clear. “I heard this from my mother too,” Utpal Borpujari said. “But when I inquired with then Tezpur SP Ataur Rahman, he told me there was no official or written order banning the film. One thing was for sure: the film had left my grandfather broke.”