It’S NO SECRET that we in India have been indifferent to the preservation of our cinematic heritage. Every two or three years, much media attention centres on the (often ill-conceived) computer colourisation of a popular classic, yet prints of most old movies continue to be in a dismal state, the worst sufferers being low-budget, non-studio films that never managed to see an extended theatrical run. There are cases of non-mainstream directors and actors not having access to their own seminal work. Naseeruddin Shah once told me that his only print of Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai was a battered videocassette: “Come to my place if you want to see it, I’m not lending it to anyone.” The actor Pawan Malhotra interrupted an interview to plaintively ask if I had seen a disc of Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, which marked his best starring role.
Linked to this regrettable neglect is a more general apathy towards how movies should ideally be experienced. Glossy DVD covers conceal faded, scratch-ridden prints of old films, with a few seconds of footage missing in nearly every scene. Audio quality is often so bad it can make one weep (more than once, I have had to switch on the subtitles for Hindi films), and there are cases of shoddy recording where sound and visual are not synchronised. Cheaply rented pirated discs seem geared to functional movie-watching where the only purpose is to perfunctorily follow the bare bones of a plot, rather than to fully experience the visual and aural qualities of a film.
What a sight for sore eyes and treat for straining ears, then, are the new ‘Cinemas of India’ DVDs released by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) in collaboration with the media content conglomerate Shemaroo Entertainment. These well-restored prints of non-mainstream films (insert your label of choice: Art or Parallel Film, New Wave Cinema) produced by NFDC in the 1980s and early 1990s represent what the movie-watching experience can be—the images are nearly spotless, the colours vivid, the audio clear. View a couple of them and you’ll find it difficult to go back to regular DVD-watching.