India loses Alam Ara, other classics to NFAI 'inefficiency'

Heritage lost

India loses Alam Ara, other classics to NFAI 'inefficiency'

India’s first talkie, Alam Ara, has been lost forever, along with hundreds of other classic films, including those made during the “silent era”. Blame it on the lack of proper government policy for years and inefficiency on part of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI).

According to a parliamentary committee report on estimates, tabled in Parliament recently, the idea to have a repository of “important” films produced in the country was mooted way back in 1954, when the national film awards were instituted. It, however, remained limited to keeping record of award-winning films only.

The government later set up the NFAI in 1964 to ensure that the country’s film heritage was preserved for posterity, but came up with a film acquisition policy for the NFAI about seventeen years later.

A policy on preservation and restoration of films, however, remained a far cry until a few years ago, when the Information and Broadcasting Ministry came up with the National Film Heritage Mission.

By the time, the NFAI started collecting films in an “organised way”, soon after its inception, it was found that nearly 62-70 per cent of classic films produced in the country were no longer available.

Their negatives had crumbled, been distorted or had even turned to powder. Alam Ara was one of them.

“Consequently, less than 20 films out of the 1,000 produced in the country during the silent era are available now. Many valuable films of the sound era too, including Alam Ara (1931), have been lost forever,” noted the parliamentary panel, headed by Congress MP Francisco Sardinha, in its report.

Countless valuable items, like screenplays, posters, stills, costumes, properties and vintage equipment have also been damaged or completely lost over decades, it added.
“It (the NFAI) has miserably failed in achieving this objective. No substantial effort to conserve our film heritage has been made in consonance with the volume of production,” noted the panel, asking the government to carry out a comprehensive review of the NFAI.

The panel noted that the NFAI houses only 9,000 films, while availability and condition of some 34,000 films are “unknown”.

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