All posts by Atikh Rashid

A journalist with a national English daily. Interested in cinema, humour and politics.

I&B Ministry sets up expert panel to probe Film Archive issues

Apart from this, the I&B ministry had also formed a committee to review the work being done under the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) at the NFAI.

ATIKH RASHID

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has constituted a five-member expert committee comprising veteran filmmakers and film preservation experts to look into the condition of films as well as the storage vaults at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). The committee will also suggest ways and means to preserve the films in a better manner. The committee comprises filmmakers Shaji N Karun, Ketan Mehta, Piyush Shah, former NFAI director K S Sasidharan and Shri Ponnaya, former chief of laboratory at Prasad Labs, Hyderabad.

Starting from September 2017, The Indian Express had published a series of news reports bringing to the fore glaring lacunae in the way celluloid films were being looked after at the Pune-based NFAI. Among these were the findings of an inventory carried out by a private firm for NFAI, which had claimed that as many as 51,500 film reels that were on accession records of the Archive were not physically present in its vaults.

Another news report had pointed out that thousands of film reels received from various sources by NFAI were lying in gunny bags. Yet another report stated that even after a major fire incident in 2003, the Archive lacked fire-fighting capacity, and nine important film prints were lying in a sealed film lab in Mumbai where NFAI had sent them for copying way back in 2007.

In March 2018, The Indian Express reported that due to NFAI’s failure to maintain the desired temperature and humidity levels within its vaults, a major chunk of film reels stored in the vaults were affected by deterioration — termed technically as vinegar syndrome. Earlier this week, this newspaper had published a report pointing out that three regional offices opened by NFAI in 1980s were non-functional for over a decade and no efforts were being taken to revive them.

The committee has been tasked with five specific responsibilities, namely to prepare a list of loss of films with archival value, suggest ways to salvage the National Film Heritage Mission, look into the condition of films and film related material at the Archive, suggest ways and means to restore them, and carry out a physical assessment of the condition of storage vaults.

An official with the I&B Ministry, who is privy to the development, said the Ministry decided to form a committee after going through a preliminary report submitted by Karun, following a surprise visit by him and Joint Secretary (Films) Ashok Kumar Parmar on April 4. Karun and Parmar had visited all film storage vaults at both the premises of NFAI in the city.

ALSO READ | ‘Vinegar syndrome’ ruining film treasure at National Film Archive, reveals data from film assessment project

“Two weeks ago, I had submitted a report to the Ministry based on my observations during the surprise check. I had suggested a few things that needed to be done for better storage of films at the Archive. Based on that, the five-member committee has been formed to probe the matter further,” Karun told The Indian Express. The filmmaker said the committee members will hold a meeting to decide the way forward. “The aim is to assess the damage that has been done to films stored at NFAI, find a way to avoid it in future and salvage the films that have been damaged,” said Karun.

Apart from this, the I&B ministry had also formed a committee to review the work being done under the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) at the NFAI.

The NFHM is a nearly Rs 600-crore project aimed at conserving, digitising and preserving the celluloid heritage of the country. Launched in 2014, it is being implemented by the NFAI.

The committee will look into financial as well as other matters pertaining to the NFHM. This committee comprises Parmar, Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor Ali R Rizvi, and Senior Economic Advisor Rohit Kumar Parmar.

Express reports prompt I&B to conduct surprise check at NFAI

Joint Secretary (Films) at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ashok Kumar Parmar, and Karun, arrived unannounced on Wednesday morning and visited all 19 storage vaults on NFAI’s premises at Law College Road and Kothrud. The two will submit a report to the I&B Ministry about their inspection.

ATIKH RASHID

Taking cognisance of a series of reports published in The Indian Express on the state of affairs at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), a senior official from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) and veteran filmmaker Shaji N Karun on Wednesday made a surprise inspection of the storage facilities at the institution.

Joint Secretary (Films) at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ashok Kumar Parmar, and Karun, arrived unannounced on Wednesday morning and visited all 19 storage vaults on NFAI’s premises at Law College Road and Kothrud. The two will submit a report to the I&B Ministry about their inspection.

“We have taken note of the issues that we found during our inspection and all this will be conveyed to the ministry,” Parmar told The Indian Express. Karun said that “being a film person”, I&B Minister Smriti Irani was herself concerned about the issues highlighted in the reports of The Indian Express, and that was the reason she had sent Parmar and him for a ‘preliminary inspection’.

“We will write a report and submit our observations to the ministry. This might be followed by a more detailed inquiry,” said Karun.

The Indian Express had reported on March 30 that NFAI often failed to maintain the desired temperature and humidity levels within its vaults, as a result of which several film reels had started showing signs of permanent damage. Data obtained by this newspaper pertaining to an ongoing assessment of film reels stored at NFAI showed that of the 58,670 reels checked till the end of November 2017, only 17,052 had remained unaffected by vinegar syndrome, a term used to describe the deterioration in acetate-base films. A total of 27,387 reels were in various stages of vinegarisation — from being mildly affected to being in a rapidly decomposing state — while 14,231 had reached a stage of irreversible damage.

Asked about its observations on the storage facilities at NFAI, Karun said the situation was “bad”. “In one of the vaults, we could not stand (due to the foul smell). We had to come out quickly,” he said.

Parmar said the ministry had also formed a committee to review the work being done under National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) at the NFAI. The NFHM is a nearly Rs 600-crore project aimed at conserving, digitising and preserving the celluloid heritage of the country. Launched in 2014, it is being implemented by the NFAI. “A three-member committee will review the work being done under NFHM. The committee will inspect the financial as well as physical matters. It’s likely to visit NFAI next week,” said Parmar. The committee comprises Parmar, Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor Ali R Rizvi, and Senior Economic Advisor Rohit Kumar Parmar. In September last year, The Indian Express had published a series of news reports bringing out the findings of an internal NFAI assessment, which had claimed that as many as 51,500 film reels that were on accession records of the Archive were not physically present in its vaults.

The reports had also pointed out that thousands of film reels at NFAI had been lying dumped in gunny bags, that even after a major fire incident in 2003, the archive lacked fire-fighting capacity, and that nine important film prints were lying in a sealed film lab in Mumbai where NFAI had sent them for copying way back in 2007.

Number of films at NFAI never verified, projections to I&B fictitious: Former NFAI Director K S Sasidharan

K S Sasidharan, who worked with NFAI for over two decades, serving at its director for five years before retiring in 2008, spoke to Atikh Rashid on these issues, and more.

ATIKH RASHID

IN September last year, The Indian Express published a series of reports on the state of affairs at the city-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI). Among other things, the articles mentioned the findings of a report that claimed as many as 51,500 film reels, which were on accession records of the Archive, were not present in its vaults. Last week, another report in the newspaper revealed that as per the ongoing ‘condition assessment project’ at the organisation, a large number of celluloid film reels stored at NFAI have reached critical level of decomposition due to failure to maintain ideal storage conditions inside its vaults.

K S Sasidharan, who worked with NFAI for over two decades, serving at its director for five years before retiring in 2008, spoke to Atikh Rashid on these issues, and more.

What would you say about the issues afflicting the NFAI as brought out in the reports in The Indian Express?

I have been reading them. See, NFAI has always had administrative and accountability issues. Can you imagine that even after 53 years of its existence, NFAI doesn’t even have an ‘organisational manual’ which lays down rules and procedures for smooth functioning. During my tenure as NFAI director, a draft for the manual was prepared. When it was placed before the Advisory Committee of NFAI for approval, a prominent member raised some silly objections that led to scuttling the project. P K Nair, who was on the committee, volunteered to prepare the manual but it never materialised.

In absence of such a document which lays down rules and procedures, officers can go on doing things the way they like. Any senior functionary will find it convenient not to have one because it brings restrictions on his authority to indulge in unlawful practices.

What about the more than 51,500 missing film reels? Officials say these could be the reels that were disposed of in 1995 and 2008. But records show only 28,400 were disposed then.

51,500 is too big a number to be entirely accounted for through disposals. When I was at NFAI (Pune headquarters), the disposal happened only once, in 1995. Although I was deputy director at that time, I was not involved in the whole process of disposal of films. The job was assigned to the then Film Preservation Officer by the Director.

Is it possible that these prints went out of NFAI and never returned?

I am not in a position to comment on this. Another explanation could be that the projection of number of films acquired by NFAI was not factual in the first place. This is entirely possible because the method to arrive at the total number of films with NFAI was flawed.

The numbers published in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), which were in turn provided by NFAI, were deemed to be factual numbers. Successive directors relied on those figures and kept updating them by adding the number of films acquired by them during their time. For example, if the annual report for previous year says NFAI had 12,000 films and I acquired 800 more during the current year, while sending the annual report for that year I would send 12,800 as total number of films held by the Archive without physically verifying it.

It also became a number game. So every director focuses on acquiring more films and letting the Ministry know it. Now, from what you have reported, it’s obvious that those projections in the annual reports were fictitious. It’s a human tendency, the darker side gets darker while the brighter side gets projected out of all proportions.

Why wasn’t an audit of inventory done even once in the last 53 years, including during your tenure?

In government, you go by precedence which was that you needed to only add fresh arrivals to the figure supplied to the ministry the previous year. This is where the mistake crept in. Also, conducting a stock verification was very difficult. There wasn’t enough staff. There was no established mechanism. All the factors contributed to the confusion.

We published pictures of about 14,900 film reels dumped in gunny bags in halls at NFAI Phase II premise.

I don’t know what films those are… the best thing would be to segregate the material worth preserving in the Archive and to discard the junk. There has to be a mechanism for disposal of films that have deteriorated irretrievably. I don’t think NFAI has such a mechanism even today. This is where the relevance of a manual comes in.

About 17,000 film reels packed in gunny bags and boxes were sent to a private warehouse 40 km away from NFAI’s campus in February-March 2016. Prakash Magdum, director of NFAI, said that this wasn’t unprecedented and such shifting to private facilities had happened during P K Nair’s time as well.

It must have happened, but it never happened during my tenure. Also, if you are saying the reels deteriorated then why would you spend public money on transport and storage at a private warehouse? It should have been avoided at any cost.

We also found out and reported that prints of nine important films from the black and white era are locked inside a lab (now dysfunctional) in Mumbai, which was sealed in 2010 over a legal dispute.

I can tell you that it’s squarely the responsibility of the Film Preservation Wing to monitor the movement of the films at the Archive, whether they are going out for copying or being sent out for screenings. It’s the bona-fide duty of the Film Preservation Officer to ensure that the material is back at the Archive within the stipulated time. The time window used to be maximum two to three weeks.

In case of the nine films mentioned, very important material and copyright issues are involved too. If the material is not back with the Archive within time, you should smell a rat and adopt legal measures to retrieve the archival property.

You were NFAI director when the unfortunate incident of fire in the nitrate vault took place in 2003. You had to face a lot of criticism for loss of cinematic heritage. How do you see it now?

There was a departmental inquiry and it was found that the fire had started because of rough handling of the air conditioning system installed there, leading to a spark that caused the fire. The nature of nitrate films is such that once it catches fire, you won’t be able to douse it even if you bring all the fire tenders in the world till the last bit of the film is burnt out.

More importantly, I will tell you how things work at NFAI. Construction and maintenance of storage facilities is done by the Civil Construction Wing (CCW) of All India Radio. These are the people who have no cinematic sensibilities. Although they are responsible for day-to-day upkeep of film vaults and other facilities, they are not given any orientation training in cinema and its heritage value in the context of history and culture, to sensitise them adequately. Also, NFAI has no control over them. It’s still a problem.

‘Vinegar syndrome’ ruining film treasure at National Film Archive, reveals data from film assessment project

NFAI fails to maintain the desired temperature and humidity within its vaults, causing rapid film decomposition; AC units break down frequently and remain unattended for prolonged periods, documents show.

Air-conditioners and dehumidifiers installed inside the vaults often break down and remain in disrepair for months.

ATIKH RASHID

IN February 2009, P K Nair, the film archivist who is credited with setting up Pune-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI), wrote a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, complaining that “25,000 reels of rare archival footage” at NFAI had been disposed of because the staff “could not stand the foul smell emanating from the reels”.

Nair, who retired as director of NFAI in 1991 but continued to keep an eye over the institution, said the reels disposed of contained “some rare national award-winning films for which no negatives or duplicate material exists anywhere in the country to the best of my knowledge”.

The ‘foul smell’ mentioned in his letter is the stench that emanates from acetate base film reels once they start decomposing after being exposed to heat and humidity. Preservationists call this ‘vinegar syndrome’ since the chemical released by films while decomposing is ‘acetic acid’, known commonly as vinegar.

In September last year, present NFAI director Prakash Magdum had told The Indian Express that the institution had disposed of a total of 28,400 reels in two tranches — in 1995 and in 2008. Nair, it seems, was referring to the second instance in his letter to the PMO.

Vijay Jadhav, director of NFAI when Nair made the complaint, passed away in 2010. Nair died in 2016. But the ‘vinegar syndrome’ continues to ruin the treasure of films stored at NFAI.

Information obtained by The Indian Express shows that a majority of the film reels stored at NFAI was affected by the ‘vinegar syndrome’ and a considerable number of them had been damaged irretrievably.

As part of the ‘Film Collection Assessment Project’, which is the first stage in the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) launched by I&B Ministry, NFAI is, among other things, gauging the extent of damage caused by ‘vinegar syndrome’ to its collection. While the project is ongoing, data from 10 of the 19 storage vaults shows that of the 58,670 reels checked with acid detection strips by the end of November 2017, only 17,052 had remained unaffected by the syndrome. A total of 27,387 reels were in various stages of vinegarisation – from mildly affected, to rapidly decomposing – and 14,231 had reached the stage where the film gets irretrievably damaged due to decomposition.

A Preservationist’s Nightmare

In 1940s, acetate film base, often called safety base, emerged as an answer to the ephemerality of highly-inflammable nitrate film which was the only available film base till then. Use of cellulose nitrate for photographic film was slowly phased out, with filmmakers relying more and more on ‘triacetate cellulose’ base. In fact, a majority of surviving nitrate film collection was transferred on acetate film, hoping that it will be secured for the future. Sadly, it soon became apparent that the safety base wasn’t stable either. While it was not inflammatory, the acetate film has the tendency of ‘deacetylation’ — breaking down into simpler compounds — when exposed to high temperature and humidity. The acid, thus, released then acts as catalyst for further deacetylation, causing rapid deterioration of the affected film and even infecting the un-damaged acetate films stored nearby.

In advanced stages of decay due to vinegarisation, the film shrinks, the image layers gets delaminated from the base, the film may become brittle, crystal deposits and bubbles are formed on the surface of the film. The film reel is, thus, rendered unsuitable to be projected, or, in most cases, even copied.

NFAI’s struggles with heat and humidity

The best way to avoid and check ‘vinegar syndrome’ is to store the film under controlled temperature (around 2 to 4 degree celsius for colour, 12-14 degrees for B&W) and relative humidity (25-30 per cent for colour films, 50 per cent for B&W). Lower temperatures and drier conditions slow the decomposition process and the films stored in right conditions may last for several centuries.

The systems installed to control temperature and humidity at NFAI, and their upkeep, are grossly unsatisfactory, documents obtained by The Indian Express show. Not only the air conditioning systems and dehumidifiers break down frequently but, more alarmingly, it sometimes takes four to six months to repair them.

I P Mishra, Executive Engineer (Electrical) Civil Construction Wing of All India Radio which is in-charge of setting up and maintaining infrastructure at NFAI, while speaking to The Indian Express in September last year, had blamed the continuous operation of the AC systems inside the vaults for frequents breakdowns. He said that since the spare parts needed for repair are difficult to procure, the repair work gets delayed.

“The air conditioning system run 24 X 7 which leads to wear and tear, resulting in breakdowns and need of maintenance,” Mishra had said.

Documents show that between November 2014 and November 2017, air-conditioning systems and dehumidifiers in Vault No 8, Vault No 9, Vault no.10 and Vault No.11 remained out of order for a prolonged period of time. Despite requests for repair by NFAI officials, the Civil Construction Wing (All India Radio) remained unresponsive sometimes for months.

The Result

The film condition assessment data accessed by The Indian Express shows that the shoddy upkeep at NFAI has taken a toll on the films, especially in vaults where temperature and humidity control devices remained dysfunctional.

The situation was worst in Vault No 8 where, of the total 7,591 reels on which AD strip tests were performed (of 8,067 reels stored in that vault), only 53 were unaffected by vinegarisation. Around 2,688 reels were in various stages of deterioration while as many as 4,850 reels had reached an acidity level of pH value less than 4 which damages the reels permanently. These reels contain over 300 films, including all nine double reels of Awaara, seven out of eight reels of a print of Do Bigha Zameen, all eight reels of release positive of Mother India, two prints of Kalia Mardan containing five reels each, and three prints of Sahab Bibi aur Ghulam.

Similar was the case in Vault No.11 and others (see box).

NFAI Director Prakash Magdum and Official on Special Duty (NFHM) Santosh Ajmera did not respond to queries despite multiple attempts to contact him. Former director K S Sasidharan pointed to peculiar maintenance system at NFAI which may be working to the detriment of the film heritage. While NFAI is custodian of the reels stored in the vaults, the responsibility of maintaining the vaults in ideal conditions of temperature and humidity is with CCW (AIR), whose officials do not have any training or understanding of film preservation.

“These people have no cinematic sensibilities. Although they are responsible for day-to-day upkeep of films vaults and other facilities, they are not given any orientation training in cinema and its heritage value in the context of history and culture. Also, NFAI has no control over them,” said Sasidharan who served as director between 2002 and 2008.

College of Agriculture campus lost 119 acres to govt projects in three decades

Information obtained by The Indian Express using Right To Information shows that the state government and municipal corporations have been turning to the college demanding land for various projects and walking away with big chunks despite protests from the institute authorities.

Recently the state government handed over 28.44 acres from the campus to the Maha Metro Rail Corporation Ltd for building a maintenance depot.

ATIKH RASHID

One of the biggest green spaces in the heart of the city — the College of Agriculture campus — has shrunk by 119.72 acres in the last three and half decades, according to data obtained by The Indian Express under the Right To Information (RTI) Act. (One acre equals 43,560 sqft). The lost green space has been used variously for widening roads, building subways and offices, agriculture-related schemes and, most recently, for building a maintenance depot for the Pune Metro.

The College of Agriculture was set up in 1879 as a department linked to the College of Science (now the College of Engineering, Pune) and, later in 1907, became a separate institute. Back then, the campus sprawled over 150 acres.

In later years, as activities expanded, the campus grew to 569.91 acres — this included land at the college’s Shivajinagar campus, farms in the Ganeshkhind area, the dairy department in Khadki and research plots in Manjari on Solapur Road. Data shows since the eighties, the college has relinquished land for various projects of the state government, the Centre and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) but was rarely given land in compensation by government agencies.

The lush green college campus is not only popular with students who come here to study but is also a popular destination for nature lovers. The old stone college building is one of the most beautiful edifices in the city and the location for many a film shoots.

The beautiful main building constructed by British in early 20th century is a popular destination for film shoots.

Documents show the college received no land in return for a 35,000-sqft land it gave for construction of a subway on the Pune-Mumbai Highway, a 12,670-sqft land for the widening of Mula Road, a 1,23,202-sqft land for further expansion of the road, a 52,267-sqft land for widening of the Pune-Mumbai Highway, a 25,220-sqft land for the widening of University Road, a 1,549-sqft land for shifting the Mhasoba Mandir following the construction of a flyover on University Road and a 26,900-sqft land for a pumping station.

In December 2000, the college gave 8.46 acres to Sakhar Sankul, the office of the sugar commissioner, but received no land in compensation. Besides, the college gave 30.66 hectares for setting up the Directorate of Floriculture, which comes under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). In the most recent instance, the college provided land for a maintenance depot of the Pune Metro, work on which started last year. The state government handed over 28.44 acres from the main campus of the college to the Maha Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) although the move was opposed by the college authorities.

Communications sent by the college authorities to the Maha Metro as well as the state government, obtained under the RTI Act, show that the college argued if the land was handed over to the Maha Metro, it would hamper expansion plans of the college as well as affect its current academic and research activities.

Work has commenced on the land plot handed over to Maha Metro for maintenance depot (Arul Horizon)

“Agricultural education involves experimental learning modules, which require practicals on the fields. Also, availability of land is one of the criteria for grant of funds by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. If we lose a major chunk of land, then these prospects will take a beating. shrinking of the area will affect the agricultural education model in the entire state,” states another communication sent to the principal secretary (agriculture) on March 24 last year.

The institute’s administration had also pointed out that a whopping 6,133 trees, part of the genetically pure mother plant orchards, would be felled to clear the land for the project. The state government, however, went ahead with the land acquisition, asking the Maha Metro to transplant the orchards elsewhere on the campus.

A year after demonetisation, currency chests of banks still saddled with crores in old notes

The Indian Express spoke to a number of officials working with currency chests in Pune, as well as senior officers of various banks, who said that almost all the currency chests in the city still hold a bulk of the scrapped notes, as the RBI has been unable to take them away due to the limited disposal capacity at its offices

ATIKH RASHID

A year after demonetisation, its success or failure is still a matter of debate, with the government and Opposition still making contradictory claims. While people had to suffer considerably in the aftermath of the decision, even bankers were hit by the decision to withdraw high-value currency notes, and their work increased considerably. Over a year after the Centre announced the move, some bankers continue to feel the effects of demonetisation.

These are the officials who work with the banks’ currency chests, as they are left holding the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes deposited by lakhs of customers. Officials working with currency chests in Pune, as well as senior officers of various banks, have said that almost all the currency chests in the city still hold a bulk of the scrapped notes, as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been unable to take them away due to the limited disposal capacity at its offices. The notes remain the property of the RBI, but are stored in the chests managed by the banks concerned.

Bank officials pointed out that this scenario often affects their routine currency distribution function, as the storage space is used up by scrapped notes, leaving limited space for currency used in their routine operations. The RBI has three regional offices in Maharashtra: the one in Belapur, Navi Mumbai, caters to 11 districts including Pune as well as the state of Goa; the Fort Regional Office in Mumbai which caters to parts of the state, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and a third one in Nagpur with jurisdiction over the whole of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, apart from a few districts of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

As many as 189 currency chests are connected to the RBI’s regional office in Belapur, 29 of which are in Pune district. Staffers working with currency chests and bankers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in the days after November 8 last year, the chests started filling up with demonetised notes. “At that time, the focus was on remonetisation and dealing with the shortage of currency, so the old notes remained with the banks’ currency chests and nobody complained about it.

However, when the RBI didn’t give us any guidelines till May, we started to follow up with the apex bank, to get rid of the old notes,” said a senior officer of a leading bank. “The old notes were taking up considerable space in the chests… and our distribution operations were affected due to the limited storage space in the vaults. After our follow-ups, RBI started picking up the notes from the chests in August 2017. They used to pick up a portion of old notes from each chest, instead of emptying out a single one,” said the officer. The officials pointed out that the capacity of the RBI, to dispose of old notes, was limited. Usually, only old soiled notes, counterfeit currency or notes of a certain batch that has been withdrawn can be shredded, pulped or burnt. “With demonetisation, suddenly 1,500 crore pieces of invalid currency were created. So, it was understandable that the RBI will take a long time to dispose of all the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes,” said an official working with the currency chest of a nationalised bank. He said that according to his estimate, it may take the RBI two to three more months to take away all the notes.

The senior manager of a bank, who claimed that the bank’s currency chest still holds “over Rs 800 crore” in old notes, said he has been “following up rigorously” with the RBI’s Belapur office. “Rs 500 to Rs 1000 old notes occupy almost 60 per cent of the total capacity of the chest, leaving only 40 per cent space for our functional storage. We were promised that the old stock will be picked up by October but it’s yet to happen,” said the manager. He said that the bank was hoping that relief will arrive soon after the currency chest of Canara Bank was emptied of old notes by the RBI earlier this month.

The situation is no different at the 12 currency chests held by the State Bank of India in Pune district. Officials working with the Pune Treasury Branch of SBI, which coordinates distribution of currency for about 160 branches in Pune district, along with smaller banks, said that their vaults too were full of old notes. “In the third week of September, a portion of the old notes stored in our currency chest at the Treasury Branch, as well as parts of other SBI currency chests, were picked up. We were told that more old notes will be shifted to the Belapur office for disposal this month. It’s yet to happen,” said the official . However, the bankers admitted that the situation was much better now, when compared to the months after demonetisation. “We were forced to keep the cash in steel trunks on the floor, because the vaults were full. We managed to shift some of the old notes by taking them with us to the RBI’s Belapur office, when we visited it to pick up new notes,” said an official.

An assistant manager with a suburban branch of IDBI Bank shared that due to shortage of space in the bank’s currency chest, they often refuse to accept bundles of Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 50 notes from customers. “We have either stopped accepting Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 50 bundles from customers or we force those who withdraw large sums to take a portion of the amount in smaller denominations, to get rid of these bundles,” said the assistant manager.

From old bills to new civil works, where National Film heritage mission funds went

EXPRESS RTI: It aims at restoration of 1,050 feature films and 960 shorts; digitisation of 1,050 features and 1,200 shorts, construction of vaults of international standards, and training programmes.

ATIKH RASHID

When the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) was rolled out in November 2014 with the Union Cabinet approving Rs 597.41 crore, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune was selected as the implementing agency. The scheme’s objective is preservation and restoration of India’s celluloid film heritage, the work to be undertaken from 2014-15 to 2020-21. It aims at restoration of 1,050 feature films and 960 shorts; digitisation of 1,050 features and 1,200 shorts, construction of vaults of international standards, and training programmes.
Of the total allocation, Rs 291 crore is to be spent during the 12th Plan and Rs 306.41 crore during 13th. In the last three years, NFAI has received Rs 21.16 crore under NFHM. Half these funds went into settling an old liability that NFAI owed to a subsidiary of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, according to accounts accessed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act. The firm had been contracted for digitisation and restoration of films before NFHM was rolled out.

NFAI paid Reliance Media Works Limited Rs 10 crore in December 2014 to clear the “outstanding liability” after it received an approval for this from the I&B Ministry. In April 2015, Rs 2 lakh was additionally paid; this “cleared the liability totally”.

NFAI officials said that under the earlier project for digitisation and restoration, which was executed during the 11th Plan (2007-12), 566 films were digitised, including 329 that were restored. Bills for this work, submitted by Reliance Media Works between March 2011 and March 2012, and accessed by The Indian Express, were for Rs 38.71 crore.

“[The Rs 10.02 crore] was an outstanding amount, which could not be paid due to budget constraints during the 11th Five Year Plan,” said Prakash Magdum, NFAI director. “In fact, this was a kind of pilot project of digitisation in which some of the finest films from India were digitised, thereby making them accessible to cinema lovers. The objectives of NFHM were envisaged based on learnings from this project.”

NFAI spent Rs 3.80 crore on civil works, which included renovation and refurbishing of NFAI auditorium, installation of three new DCP projectors, modification of the director’s office, electrical works, renovation of toilets, construction of temporary sheds and parking area, thermal insulation of service blocks, and new workstations for staff. And Rs 3.25 crore was spent on purchase of new computers, storage equipment as well as on publicity including social media management.

Another Rs 3.77 crore was spent on payment to KPMG India, which won the contract for the consultancy firm for NFHM, and Prasad Labs that bagged the contract for condition assessment of the films with NFAI.

Besides, Rs 24 lakh and Rs 8 lakh were spent on buying film publicity material from hobbyists and domestic travel respectively. NFAI pays collectors of non-film material such as posters, stills, song booklets, press clippings at photos at various rates, ranging from Rs 100 per item belonging to contemporary times (since 1991) to Rs 1,000 per item belonging to the silent era.

On spending NFHM funds on civil works at NFAI, Makhdum said, “In order to fulfil objectives of NFHM, there is necessity for creating infrastructure environment which can be done in the government through major and minor works, which has changed the overall organisation setup and helped bringing it to modern, technology, equipped and state of art archive setup. Also enabling it to come closer to people at large.”

14 years after fire destroyed hundreds of films, lessons not yet learnt

Fourteen years since, the firefighting system at none of NFAI’s 27 vaults is functional. A decision to change the old firefighting system, installed in 1994, was taken in 2008; work started in 2015 and is still on.

January 2003 fire in nitrate vaults of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) on the FTII campus.

ATIKH RASHID

ON January 8, 2003, fire broke out in a nitrate vault of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) on the Film and Television Institute of India campus. In an hour and a half, all reels in the vault were reduced to ashes. Going by a statement by then MoS (I&B) Ravi Shankar Prasad in Rajya Sabha that February, NFAI lost 607 films in 5,097 reels in the fire. These included a number of pre-1950 films, including silent films from the early era of the Indian film industry, some of these by Dadasaheb Phalke and V Shantaram. NFAI asserted that most of the films destroyed had already been copied on acetate base, also called safety base since it’s less inflammable, hence the loss wasn’t as “grim as it was made out to be”. In addition to these classics, 544 reels that stored war footage in Italian, English, German and Russian were unique prints, not copied on any medium, and therefore lost from NFAI’s collection.

A high-level inquiry followed, seeking to fix responsibility and assess the safety system and suggest measures to avoid any repeat. Although the report of the inquiry was never made public, various media (including The Indian Express) reported, based on source-based information, that the committee blamed “sparks emanating from a faulty air-conditioner” in the nitrate vault and recommended that the material be transferred to freshly built vaults on NFAI’s Kothrud campus.


Fourteen years since, the firefighting system at none of NFAI’s 27 vaults is functional. A decision to change the old firefighting system, installed in 1994, was taken in 2008; work started in 2015 and is still on. The air-conditioning systems, too, break down frequently and sometimes take months for repair, according to those responsible for maintaining these systems. A picture published by Maharashtra Times in April shows pedestal fans being used to maintain the temperature in a vault, apparently due to the failure of air-conditioning.

The Principal Director Audit, Mumbai, conducted an inspection of NFAI between December 2013 and April 2015. As per its report, accessed by The Indian Express under the Right To Information Act, NFAI didn’t have enough firefighting provisions and “loss of this property (films and non-filimc material) can’t be ruled out in case of incident of fire”.”

“The films and other filmic materal acquired by NFAI were stored in temperature controlled film vaults. It’s very inflammable articles. However, during visit, of this premises it was found that there was not sufficient provision for firefighting system and not proper backup provision of valuable articles (Films). Due to non-availability of sufficient firefighting system in the premises loss of this property can not be ruled out in case of fire…,” the report states in part II(A), paragraph 2.


As per the report, when the audit team pointed this out to the NFAI administration, it was told the new firefighting system would be installed at the earliest with the work already taken up under the 12th Plan allocation for ‘upgradation of infrastructure’. “… In reply, the department accepted the fact and stated that the existing firefighting equipment installed in the film vaults is very old and is due for replacement… The work has been entrusted to CCW (E), All India Radio and same would be completed as early as possible. [The officials] further stated that regarding backup of filmic materials, guidelines from the competent authority will be obtained and action in this regard will be intimated to audit,” reads the report.

With firefighting and alarm systems yet to become functional, eight nitrate vaults and 16 safety base vaults at phase II and three underground vaults at phase I of NFAI continue to operate under the threat of fire. Asked about this, NFAI director Prakash Magdum said the work is in the “last stage of completion” and will be over within a month. “NFAI had the fire alarm system in place since 1994 along with Halon Gas fire fighting system. Eventually, Halon Gas system needed replacement with modern fire fighting system. The work is being undertaken by Civil Construction Wing (CCW) of AIR. For the first time, we are taking steps to install carbon dioxide flooding system which will be much more effective. The work at phase II is in last stage of completion and will be over within a month. This will ensure the safety of film collection including Nitrate and safety base vaults at NFAI,” said Magdum.

I B Mishra, executive engineer with CCW (Electrical), AIR, said the reason for the delay in completing work was that although the project was slated to start in 2008, funds were released only in August 2014. “The work could only start in the beginning of 2015 after release of funds. Also, since this is a very complex and specialised job with lots of designing involved, it’s progressing slowly. Nevertheless, we have in the testing phase for safety base vaults at Phase I and will commission them in one or two months. Following this we will move to other vaults,” Mishra said.

He said the air-conditioning system breaks down often because it’s operated day and night due to specific needs of NFAI. “Air Conditioning equipment were installed in 2007-08 in Phase II and aren’t very old. However, they are run 24×7 which leads to wear and tear resulting in breakdowns and need of maintenance,” Mishra said.

Locked in Mumbai lab, ‘unique single prints’ of film classics

EXPRESS RTI: The documents show, additionally, that NFAI got to know of the dispute just a month after the premises had been sealed in 2010 as the owner had approached court.

Building of Kine Sixteen Lab in Mumbai, now sealed. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

ATIKH RASHID

Tapan Sinha’s Arohi (1964) was in the first lot of celluloid films that reached National Film Archive of India (NFAI) for preservation, soon after it was set up in Pune in February 1964. Arohi, which released the same year as Satyajit Ray’s Charulata, won the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival and Diploma of Merit at the London Film Festival, besides the President’s silver medal for best feature film and best story award at the National Film Awards. It was the National Film Award Committee that had sent the “release print” to NFAI.

For the last 10 years, the print has been in a now sealed building in Mumbai, out of NFAI’s reach. Arohi is one of nine “important, unique celluloid film prints” that had been sent to Kine Sixteen Lab in 2007, only to be locked up in 2010 following a dispute between the “conductor of the lab business” and the owner of the property, according to documents accessed by The Indian Express and replies received to questions under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The prints had been sent for duplication as they had become “smelly and shrunk”.

The documents show, additionally, that NFAI got to know of the dispute just a month after the premises had been sealed in 2010 as the owner had approached court. Yet NFAI officials have failed to get the custody of the prints even today — it is yet to file an intervention application in the civil court where the battle over the lab property is still on.

The films

The celluloid prints locked in the property include another Tapan Sinha film, Atithi (1965), which was nominated for four awards including the Golden Lion and Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. The other prints include Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anupama (1966).

Arangetram (1973) by Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner K Balachander marked Kamal Haasan’s debut in an adult role. Uthama Puthiran (1940) was the first Tamil film featuring an actor in a double role; it is also remembered for German technicians in the crew. Another Tamil film locked up is Ponni (1953) by A S A Sami and C S Rao. Bagha Jatin (1958) by Hiranmoy Sen portrays the life of the revolutionary freedom fighter of that name, while Veer Rajputani (1955) was directed by Jamshed “J B H” Wadia, pioneer of the action genre in Indian cinema. One film is listed as Dholak but the documents accessed do not give specifics; IMDb lists a rarely seen (just 5 votes) 1951 film of that name directed by R K Shorey, written by I S Johar and featuring Ajit.

Files read by The Indian Express show that NFAI had been sending deteriorating prints to Kine Sixteen Lab, located on the Jyoti Studio campus on Grant Road, Mumbai, for several years. It also sent celluloid raw stock, worth lakhs of rupees, for duplication of those prints. In 2007, NFAI sent 16 films including the nine that are now locked up; the rest have been returned.

NFAI director Prakash Magdum told The Indian Express that of the nine films locked inside the lab, copies of five films were in NFAI’s possession in one format or the other as per records available. On the other hand, in all its communications with the law and justice ministry, police and its lawyer, as well as in internal notes accessed by The Indian Express, NFAI has maintained that eight of the nine prints were “unique single copies”.

The effort

With work pending after the prints were sent, three years passed before NFAI officials sent an official to collect the originals and the raw stock. “It’s noticed that your landline is disconnected and you are ignoring calls on mobile which [we] find very disgusting as a business person,” NFAI film preservation officer Kiran Dhiwar wrote to Kine Sixteen “proprietor” Shyamala Ramani on April 21, 2010. “Now, we are deputing our representative to collect our film material sent for laboratory work time to time and the completed work of the subjects as per our pending orders.”

It was after this visit that NFAI officials realised that the lab had shut and been locked months earlier; that “Mrs Shyamala Ramani”, whom NFAI had addressed as “proprietor”, was “conductor of the business”; that litigation was pending between Ramani and Homsi Homi Mistry, the owner of the business as well as the premises. The laboratory was sealed after Mistry allegedly took “forcible possession” without allowing Ramani to take out her valuable articles, which included the film prints and raw celluloid stock worth Rs 35 lakh.

NFAI contacted Mistry’s lawyer requesting her to allow them to inspect the premises and take custody of the prints. According to documents, the lawyer turned down the request and asked NFAI officials to approach Gomdevi police station. The senior police inspector at Gomdevi allegedly refused to let NFAI officials in, citing the fact that the matter was pending, and asked them to approach the civil court for permission, the documents show.

Over a year more passed before NFAI officials wrote to the Union law ministry requesting it to appoint a lawyer for arguing NFAI’s case through an intervention application. Five years after that, NFAI hasn’t yet approached the court with its plea. NFAI officials said they are doing their best to get the possession of the reels.

“Kindly understand that this matter is almost 8-9 years old,” said Magdum, the NFAI director. “Initially help from police department was sought. As soon as I came to know about this matter, NFAI has initiated legal proceedings as per government process. The government counsel has been appointed in order to take up this case in the court of law for recovery of said material and we are actively pursuing the matter so that the films can be brought back.”

Advocate Vinod Joshi was engaged by the law ministry’s Department of Legal Affairs in September 2012 to represent NFAI. Till today, however, no case has been filed, documents show. “I would not comment about the matter until there are written orders to do so from the [legal affairs] department,” Joshi said, when contacted.

From Satyajit Ray to Kurosawa, over 9,200 movie prints ‘missing’

EXPRESS RTI: While National Film Archive of India (NFAI) claims to have 1.3 lakh film reels in its vaults, a private firm found in 2012 that as many as 51,500 film cans that were on record were “physically not present at NFAI”. When asked about this NFAI official conceded, for the first time, that 28,400 film reels were “disposed off” in the past.

ATIKH RASHID

IN 2010, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) got a Pune-based private firm to paste barcodes on every reel in its custody. In 2012, Cameo Digital Systems Pvt Ltd completed the project and submitted a set of reports to the NFAI along with a “summary of inventory”.

The Indian Express accessed these reports under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and came across two startling findings:

  • 51,500 cans of film reels, and over 9,200 prints, “were not physically present” at the archives.
  • 4,922 cans containing 1,112 film titles, which are not listed in the NFAI’s registers, were present in its vaults.

The reports include a “missing” list of hundreds of culturally and historically important titles, including celluloid prints of films by Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali, its sequel Aparajito, Charulata), Mehboob Khan (Mother India), Raj Kapoor (Mera Naam Joker, Awaara), Mrinal Sen (Bhuvan Shome), Guru Dutt (Kaagaz ke Phool) and several other giants of Indian cinema.

Prints of several international acquisitions were also missing, including films by Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin), Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves aka The Bicycle Thief), Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai), Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water) and Andrzej Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds).

The list includes prints of over a hundred silent films from Indian and international cinema (Battleship Potemkin is one) and celluloid containing historic footage, including from the pre-Independence days.

They include prints of visits by foreign dignitaries and Indian leaders’ visits abroad in the first three decades after independence. Among the missing footage are those of Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Paris, the Indian National Congress’s Karachi congregation, and US President Richard Nixon’s address during his visit to India 1969.

On the other hand, films that were present in the NFAI’s vaults but not in its records included Mughal-e-Azam (2 reels), Bicycle Thieves, Pakeezah (8 reels), Aparajito (2 reels), Pather Panchali (4 reels), Meghe Dhaka Tara (1), The Great Dictator (13 reels), Ardh Satya (14 reels), Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (10 reels), and Hunterwali (1 reel), with a few of these also listed among those with prints missing.

An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the NFAI had multiple copies of some of the missing films, and that the 51,500 missing cans may also include the 1,500 reels that were destroyed in a fire in 2003. The NFAI claims to have about 1.3 lakh film reels in its custody, containing 20,576 titles, which includes Indian as well as foreign films.

Contacted by The Indian Express, Prakash Magdum, director of NFAI, blamed poor record-keeping and shortage of staff for the “mismatch” in the Cameo reports. Magdum also confirmed that the institution had scrapped 28,401 reels in the past, in the first such admission by the NFAI.

One of the Cameo reports, submitted by the firm’s director Purab Gujar, describes how this mess was brought to light.

Titled ‘Go-live of the system in general and summary of inventory in specific’, the report states: “While doing the bar-coding exercise and creating data for the Libsys system we followed the below procedure: 1) Before commencing the bar-coding, we scanned all the ‘Physical Film Registers’ of NFAI and created a spreadsheet of all the entries. 2) During bar-coding, we made a separate record of all the films for which barcode pasting was carried out over the period of nine months. In this record, we mainly captured the accession numbers of each titles, the number of cans and the location of the title.”

The firm then compared the two databases to find that a chunk of films listed in the accession registers were not present at the NFAI storage facilities. Of the 9,283 missing titles, 1,439 were acquired by paying the cost of the print while 7,844 were loaned to the NFAI by various agencies, production houses or individuals, laboratories, as deposit or long-term loan for storage and preservation.

The sources of these prints include government agencies such as the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, Films Division, National Film Development Corporation; foreign missions in India like that of Germany, Australia, UK, Albania, and France; foreign film archives such as National Film Archive, London, Rumanian Film Archive, Russian Film Archive, Bulgarian Film Archive; and, film producers.

Among the films deposited by production houses were those made by Vinod Chopra Films (Lage Raho Munnabhai, Eklavya) and Wadia Movietone, Bombay (53 films, including Hunterwali ki Beti, Bambaiwali and Phauladi Mukka).

Asked about the Cameo findings, NFAI director Magdum said, “As per available records, 28,401 reels were disposed of in 1995 and 2008. The same has not been struck off the NFAI records. According to old staff at NFAI, similar disposal of films were carried out during the time of P K Nair (former director) for which no record is available. Further, there seems to be duplicate accession numbers given to similar titles for a large number of films (about 400) which underwent treatment during the 1980s.”

When it was pointed out that the number of films “physically not present at NFAI” was much higher than those disposed of, Magdum said that the counting by Cameo was in terms of cans whereas the records maintained at NFAI were in terms of reels. “This, I believe, is bound to show a mismatch in the final figures,” said Magdum.

When contacted, Cameo chief Gujar said, “The exercise was carried out several years ago. The true picture about the number of films present with NFAI will only emerge after an ongoing film assessment project is over.”

NFAI records accessed by The Indian Express also show that the situation at the institute’s library, which boasts of over 29,000 books on cinema, is not very different.

Stock verification reports reveal that 1,761 books have gone missing over the years. Of these, the loss of 1,509 books was discovered during a physical verification out in 2002. Another inspection, which ended in June 2017, revealed that 252 more books had gone missing.

One report states that a major chunk of the missing “books” was “ready reference resources” which “can’t be called books” and were “mistakenly registered” as such.

The records also include an audit report which states that the library had not carried out “physical verification” for 15 years in violation of General Financial Rules, according to which stock verification has to be done once in three years. Also missing from the NFAI are 401 DVDs.

(A copy of the Cameo report as recieved from NFAI can be found below.)