By the time the story’s published, chances are that Shivendra Singh Dungarpur would have caught the first screening of the silent movie, The Lodger, Alfred Hitchcock’s early British masterpiece, in London, put to live music score by Nitin Sawhney, no less.
What makes the viewing special for Shivendra (and in a way, for all of us) is the fact that he is one of the few people who has contributed funds for the restoration of this 1926 Hitchcock movie. The others who’ve contributed funds for this project undertaken by the BFI National Archive include The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation, Simon W Hessel, British Board of Film Classification, Deluxe 142 and Ian and Beth Mill.
“When I got into restoring films, this was the first film I got interested in,” says Shivendra as we caught up with him days before his trip to London. “I went with my instinct to contribute my bit as I’d loved watching this film while I was a student at FTII,” he recalls and so, “when BFI sent out a call for funds, I knew I wanted to do something for this movie that is essentially British, as Hitchcock made this before he moved to America.” A movie that was inspired by a play and novel on Jack the Ripper that Hitchcock had read, “this is the first film that has all the Hitchcockian elements of suspense,” Shivendra informs and adds, “I am happy that it’s being screened. As a student and now, filmmaker, you wonder how you can give back to movies and for me; it is by restoring films for posterity.”
How he got into this lesser known and much-ignored field of film restoration has been written about many a time now. “I was working on a Guru Dutt project with Anurag Kashyap and I had gone to NFAI to do research. I managed to catch a screening of Kalpana (one of the earliest movies directed by Uday Shankar) and was upset with the way the films were preserved. I was upset that of the 1,700 silent films only 9 films were still there!” What happened next reads like a nice movie script. Or as Shivendra narrates it, “I knew I had to spread the word on the importance of preserving films and I thought that if I got Kalpana restored, the awareness would spread.” And so, after a mighty struggle with the authorities — including his assistant director sitting outside the Film Preservation Officer’s office without refusing to budge — Shivendra managed to get the film print that was then sent to Scorcese’s World Cinema Foundation in Bologna, Italy and digitally restored. The movie was shown in Cannes in May, this year, with the late Uday Shankar’s wife, 94-year-old Amala Shankar walking the red carpet for it.
“A film is a record of a particular time and as a country, we need to preserve the heritage through our films,” Shivendra says, rather passionately even as he rues, “Producers in India today just make films with only the bottomline in mind and once the movie has earned them the monies, they forget about it. But we need to preserve films else we will have nothing left to show for our history.” “Restoration is an important aspect of film making,” he reiterates before sharing how the Hollywood fraternity are more zealous advocates of this art of restoring films. “I went for the screening of the restored Once Upon A Time In America, directed by Sergio Leone at Cannes this year. The screening had all big stars like Robert De Niro (who starred in the film), James Woods and Salma Hayek. The stars there feel very strongly about preserving their films,” Shivendra mulls and there’s a lot that his silence leaves unsaid.
But while Shivendra might not have converted Indian stars into vocal supporters for film preservation, he has managed to get a whole contingent of them to come together for the project that is currently close to his heart: A documentary film on the founder of the National Film Archives of India: PK Nair. Titled The Celluloid Man, the film is Shivendra’s tribute to a man whom he believes “single-handedly contributed to a whole generation of film makers and taught us all the art of film making.” It is also, he adds in the same breath, a tribute to all the lost films.
The film took Shivendra around the country recording heavyweights like Belgian director Christophe Zanussi Yash Chopra, Ramesh Sippy, Mahesh Bhatt, Ashutosh Gowariker, Shabana Azmi, Girish Kasaravalli, Mani Ratnam, Naseeruddin Shah, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Saeed Mirza and Kamal Hassan — who might not have been a student of FTII but “PK Nair would send him films to watch,” Shivendra reveals. “He was a passionate government employee whose mission was to collect and show world films to everyone.” To underline the contribution of PK Nair and importance of preserving films, Shivendra lets us in on an interesting trivia: “Did you know Dilip Kumar hadn’t watched Mughal-E-Azam when it had originally released because he had a difference of opinion with K Asif. When his wife and he eventually wanted to watch it, sometime during the 1970s, they knew that all they had to do was call Nair because he would have the print.”
“Mahesh Bhatt told me how he went looking everywhere for his father, Vijay Bhatt’s films, and he had to go back to NFAI to get them,” recalls Shivendra before stating, “That just proves my point — how do you show a film, a film maker’s legacy if what he’s done is not available anymore? Restoration is like giving life...” he encapsulates, even as he’s set his sights on his next lost treasure: “Alam Ara, the first Indian film with sound is missing and I am on a mission to find it.”