Thousands of film reels including Satyajit Ray and Kurosawa classics go missing
The National Film Archive of India claims to have 1.3 lakh film reels under its possession, but a private firm found out that in 2012 as many as 51,500 film cans that were on record were physically not present at NFAI
About 51,500 cans of film reels and over 9,200 prints “were not physically present” in the storage of the National Film Archive of India, as per a report in the Indian Express.
The National Film Archive of India, the storehouse for most of the country’s and international film reels, had got a Pune-base private firm Cameo Digital Systems Private Limited in 2010 to paste barcodes on every reel in custody.
Two years later, the firm completed the project and submitted a set of reports to the institute along with an attached summary of the inventory, which contained the tally of missing reels.
Another strange detail in the report was that 4,992 cans containing 1,112 film titles which are not listed in NFAI’s registers, were present in its vaults.
NFAI director Prakash Magdum conceded that 28,400 film reels were “disposed off” in the past between 1995-2008 and were not struck off from the records.
When contacted an official from NFAI said that poor record-keeping and shortage of staff were to blame for the missing reels.
The missing list in the report also included hundreds of culturally and historically important titles including celluloid prints of films by Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali and its sequel Aparajita also Charulata), Mehboob Khan (Mother India), Raj Kapoor (Mera Naam Joker, Awaara), Mrinal Sen (Bhuvan Shome), Guru Dutt (Kaagaz ke Phool) and several other Indian classics.
World cinema classics such as Bicycle Thieves, Battleship Potemkin and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai were also missing.
Moreover, the list includes prints of over a hundred silent films from Indian and International cinema. along with some films that contain historical footage.
Also reported missing was historical footage that included Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Paris, Indian National Congress’s Karachi aggregation and US President Richard Nixon’s address during his visit to India 1969.
An official quoted in the Indian Express report said that the 51,500 missing reels included a 1,500 that were destroyed during a fire in 2003, and that the organisation had multiple copies of some of the missing films.
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.
Magdum also pointed out that the discrepancy in the numbers could be due to the records maintained at NFAI being in terms of reels whereas the counting by private agency Cameo being done in terms of cans.
Stock verification reports at NFAI’s library also show that over 1,761 books on cinema also went missing, as per the report.The records accessed by Indian Express through RTI also contain an audit report which states that the library had not carried out “physical verification” for 15 years in violation of the General Financial Rules, according to which stock verification has to be done once in three years.