India To Seek Foreign Involvement For $150 Million Film Preservation Project

Indian classics including 'Alam Ara,' India's first talkie, have already been lost forever.

NEW DELHI  -- The Indian government is planning a major film restoration and archiving project to preserve India's cinematic heritage which will entail an investment of almost 6.6 billion rupees ($150 million) while involving potential foreign partners for technical and expert inputs.

In a recent meeting of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, I&B Minister Ambika Soni said that the government's Planning Commission had approved the $150 million funding to establish the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) which “envisages digitization of the film heritage of the country."

While a list of potential foreign partners is still awaited, there is a possibility that NFHM could involve the likes of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, France's Centre National de la Cinematographie, British Film Institute, Screen Australia and Telefilm Canada.

Spearheaded by the government's National Film Archives of India (NFAI), the NFHM will also involve other bodies such as the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), Films Division (FD), Directorate of Film Festival (DFF) and Children's Film Society of India (CFSI).

According to a recent I&B Ministry report, NFHM aims to restore and digitize about 8,000 films and 5,000 video tapes including posters and other material with the project considered “the first comprehensive step towards digitizing and restoring  film heritage.”

The sad state of film preservation in India is seen in the fact that of the estimated 1,300 silent films made between 1913 and 1931, less than a dozen are in existence. In March, Google users in India were given a surprise cinema lesson with a “Google Doodle” on the search engine's India home page celebrating the March 14, 1931 release of Alam Ara, India's first talking picture. But the film's 80th anniversary was also a poignant reminder that there is not a single print in existence of Alam Ara.

Giving an example of how films are preserved overseas, the I&B Ministry report states, “The BBC archives have films of value to Indian history, copies of which should be acquired and preserved in India to maintain a comprehensive audio-visual record of the nation.”