Saving a legacy


Back in 2008, Josef Lindner, preservation officer of the Academy Film Archive, was in Kolkata with a restored print of Sikkim, the Satyajit Ray documentary that had never been shown in India because of a ban imposed by the Centre. He went home disappointed. With the ban now repealed, he tells Arup K. De of how inspired he feels with new hope.

Josef Lindner, preservation officer at the Los Angeles based Academy Film Archive, was a sad man when he caught a flight back home from Kolkata in November 2008. He had been in the city with a season of seven Hollywood movies known to have been firm favourites with legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray. The package, screened at the 14th Kolkata Film Festival, included the works of such masters as Jean Renoir, Ernst Lubitsch, John Huston, Orson Wells, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and the Max Brothers.

But that’s not about all. Lindner had another plan up his sleeve. He also brought along a restored print of Sikkim, the Ray documentary that had never been shown in India, courtesy the ban imposed on it by the Central Government. The hope that the news of its possible screening raised among both cineastes and common moviegoers faded as no sign of clearance was in sight from New Delhi, even after days of anxious waiting. Lindner went home disappointed.




Ray Restoration


The Academy Film Archive came into being in 1991 as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the hallowed institution that conferred the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement on Ray in 1992, with such objectives as “preservation, restoration, documentation, exhibition and study of motion pictures”. Lindner, author of Preserving Fischinger in Kinetica 2: A Centennial Tribute to Oskar Fischinger, joined the Archive in 1998.  The Academy Film Archive has been running its archiving programme, of which the restoration and preservation of Ray films is an important component, since a few years after its inception.

The Academy works to save the priceless Ray legacies in coordination with the Kolkata based Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films, popularly known as the Satyajit Ray Society or just Ray Society. In cases of films where the Society’s help was not available for unavoidable reasons, they relied on other organisations or individuals.

The Society’s task has been to find and collect film elements like the original negatives (and prints where negatives are not available) of the Ray movies and ship them to the Academy Film Archive for repairs. As an Academy press release, dated 9th August 2001, said, “The restoration of Satyajit Ray’s Seemabadha (Company Limited) has been completed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Academy Film Archive, in conjunction with the Satyajit Ray Society in Calcutta, India… The film’s original black-and-white camera negative and soundtrack negative were provided to the Academy Film Archive from the film’s original producers through the Ray Society…”


The Academy has so far restored 19 Ray titles which include such early classics like Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished), Parash Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone), Jalsaghar (The Music Room), Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), Devi (The Goddess), Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), Abhijan (The Expedition), Mahangar (The Big City) and Charulata (The Lonely Wife) as also his mid-career works like Kaprush-o-Mahapurus (The Coward and the Holy Man), Nayak (The Hero) Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopi and Bagha),  Seemabaddha (Company Limited), Jana Aranya (The Middleman) Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players) and Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God). Besides, Two, a wordless, 15-minute short Ray made in 1964, and Sikkim are the lone short and documentary, respectively, that have mounted the restoration anvil till now.


“There are a number of important films by Ray that have not been preserved or restored, including Kanchenjungha and Rabindranath Tagore,” says Lindner. “However, no projects are planned at the moment, as we do not have funding in place for the work. We hope to secure grants for continuing the Ray project, but in the current economy fundraising has become all the more challenging.”Funding has never been an easy proposition. “In the case of feature films, we rarely have the funding to do such work unless we partner with a major studio or receive an outside grant, as we frequently have from Martin Scorcese’s The Film Foundation,” Lindner says. “The Ray project was funded through a combination of sources, including an early partnership with Sony, grants from The Film Foundation, and directly from the Academy Film Archive’s budget. While there are many more films in need of preservation, we can only take on projects for which we can secure funding. I am always open to hearing about new projects, unfortunately there are always too many films and not enough money.”




Sikkim Unbound

Sikkim is the least known and least viewed of the Ray works primarily because prints of the film seemed to have mysteriously disappeared after Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975. Ray’s filmmaker son Sandip was one of the fortunate few who had worked as production unit member during the shoot and watched the film before his father handed it over to his producer. According to him, the film is all about the natural beauty of Sikkim and the innocence and simplicity of its people. A major attraction is the commentary that comes in rich Ray baritone.

Ray had made the film in 1971 at the request of Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last Chogyal of the Himalayan kingdom. But the experience of its making eventually turned out to be far less than satisfactory, as he had to put in a lot of dry bureaucratic and statistical information and cut out some scenes to accommodate the wishes of his producer.

Ray could hardly accept New Delhi’s argument for banning Sikkim. The Indian authorities did not like the idea of Sikkim being shown as a monarchy, now that it was part of a democratic idea. “And that’s now democratic India,” Ray said with a loaded chuckle to his biographer, Andrew Robinson. “It’s not a very logical reason for banning the film because, after all, it shows Sikkim at a certain point of history. It does not claim to show Sikkim of today,” Ray added.

Hope Cook, the Chogyal’s American wife, left Sikkim after the princely state became a part of India. She took a print of Sikkim with her. According to Sandip, all the royal belongings later passed into the hands of an organisation called the Art & Cultural Trust of Sikkim, which contacted the Satyajit Ray Society when they had found a print of Sikkim in their possession during stock taking.

Sandip, as member-secretary of the Society, went to Gangtok to examine the print. It was so battered that it would not run on a projector. However, he sent it to the Academy Film Archive for restoration. Another print was found lying with Contemporary Films in London. It was shown at the complete Ray Retrospective that the British Film Institute organised in 2002. And yet another surfaced in the USA which, some claim, was the one Hope Cook had deposited in an American institution.

“As far as I know, there were three sources that survived for Sikkim. One was a print with Contemporary Films in London; though it was slightly less faded, it did have some scratches and some splices with missing frames,” says Lindner. “A second print was sent to us from Sikkim; it was extremely warped from acetate deterioration, and was also badly faded and worn. Though this was before I was involved with the film, my understanding is that a third print had been loaned to the Academy in the 1990s by an anonymous depositor. A new internegative had been made from this print before we were required to permanently return it to its owner. The internegative was the best source for the picture and sound; despite the extreme fading, it was still the most complete source for the sound and picture.”

The Academy Film Archive worked full steam in the face of heavy odds to complete the digital restoration of Sikkim in an unusually short time, especially to ensure that it could be screened at the Kolkata Film Festival in 2008. “It was also limited by budget restraints, as there was only a small amount of money available for the work. Finally, the colour was so far gone that it was beyond the capabilities of most of the restoration software that we tested, and new techniques were developed to handle the worst of the fading,” says Lindner. “Thus the restoration

was limited by time, money, and, of course, technology. Not everything could be fixed; we had to concentrate on the colour and could not do major ‘dust busting’ or dirt removal. Despite these limitations, we are very happy that the film has now been returned to the screen in a version very close to its original appearance.”


The Centre’s decision, announced in September 2010, to withdraw the Sikkim ban has generated a great deal of expectation of the film being shown countrywide as part of Ray’s 90th anniversary celebrations in 2011. The repeal has also inspired Lindner with new hope. “It was frustrating that the film was not shown, but I know that the festival and the people at the American Consulate worked very hard to try to get it screened,” he says. “I am very glad that the restrictions have now been lifted. There is no point spending time and resources on such (restoration) work if it cannot be seen, so we are very pleased that there is now such interest in showing the film.”

Abridged and reproduced from the 24th October, 2010 edition of The Statesman.


David Shepard report

Annotated Filmography of Satyajit Ray

(The state of each original negative, and other reprints, insofar as known to me)

Immediately after the conferring of the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement on Satyajit Ray, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPASA) approved grants to cover expenses for the actual examination on site of as many original negatives and other prime reprints of the Ray classics as practicable. David H.Shepard, an international specialist in film preservation, volunteered to spend up to three weeks in India evaluating the condition of the films. He came to India in December 1992. Shepard examined the Ray films between 20th December 1992 and 7th January 1993. His report said many of the Ray creations were in perilously bad shape. The Shepard findings formed the basis for the Ray Restoration drive that the Academy took in conjunction with the Satyajit Ray Society.


1955 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)

The original negative is in poor condition. Each reel has many tears in the picture area, patched either with cell overlays or with mylar tape, and in many reels bits of lost footage have been replaced with blank space. Three of the twelve reels have

considerably deteriorated from the vinegar syndrome. Several reels contain copy (dupe) negative sections replacing previously–damaged scenes of original negative. The negative has been ‘fotoguarded', and this process, which cannot be removed, has sealed in some damage. Restoration of this film will require a second image source.


1956 Aparajito (The Unvanquished)

The original negative is in London and I was unable to examine it; however, according to Ismail Merchant, who viewed a test print newly struck, it is in poor condition with tears and slugs.


1958 Parash Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone)

The original negative is in London and I was unable to examine it. According to Ismail Merchant, Henderson Labs finds it in poor condition at this time.


1958 Jalsaghar (The Music Room)

The original negative is in London and I was unable to examine it. According to Ismail Merchant, Henderson Labs finds it in particularly poor condition at this time.

1959 Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)

The original negative is in London and I was unable to examine it.


1960 Devi (The Goddess)

I examined this negative and found it in generally good condition. Sections of rather inferior dupe negative have replaced portions of reels 4, 6 and 8 (of 12), and these could undoubtedly be improved upon if other source material can be found.

1961 Teen Kanya (Three Daughters)

This omnibus production consists of three medium length films. Samapti's negative is in excellent condition; The Postmaster is very good; Monihara shows serious deterioration from hypo (also vinegar, in reel 3). Monihara should be re-washed and given high-priority attention.


1962 Rabindranath Tagore

The original negative (at Government of India, Films Division, Bombay) is badly damaged.


1962 Kanchenjungha


The original negative of Ray's first colour film got spoiled (vinegar) and was junked. NFA, Pune has colour negative made at Adlab from a somewhat faded print. A better negative is with Channel 4, London.


1963 Abhijan (The Expedition)

This negative is water damaged. It should be re-washed and re-canned... I feel all (reels) can be printed with good results except the last few feet of reel 1 and, unfortunately, all of reel 17 where the water damage is quite severe.

1963 Mahanagar (The Big City)

This negative is in good condition and should be printed without unusual difficulty.


1964 Charulata (The Lonely Wife)

This negative is in good condition and should be printed without unusual difficulty.


1964 Two

No information was available to me in India about the present location of elements on this short film, but they are possibly with Standard Oil in the USA.


1965 Kapurush (The Coward)

I was unable to examine this negative, which is in London, according to producer R.D. Bansal. Mr. Bansal has taken excellent care of his other five Ray films, and says that this one is in good condition also.


1965 Mahapurush (The Holy Man)

This negative is in good condition and should be printed without unusual difficulty.


1966 Nayak (The Hero)

The picture portion of this negative is in very good condition but should be rewashed. Track negative shows vinegar syndrome and a protection print should be made.


1967 Chiriakhana (The Zoo)

The producer declined to make this negative available to us for examination.

1968 Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha)

According to producer Purnima Dutta, the negative is in Hamburg where it has just been ‘rejuvenated' and printed.


1969 Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest)

According to producer Purnima Dutta, the negative is in Hamburg where it has just been ‘rejuvenated' and printed.


1970 Pratidwandi (The Adversary)

In Hamburg, as with Goopy Gyne.


1971 Seemabaddha (Company Limited)

This negative is on Orwo stock, is in very good condition, and should be printed without difficulty. However, the producer is presently unable to locate the negative for a short colour sequence (a segment of reel 2). I examined a mint-condition Orwo colour positive of this sequence from which a good internegative could be produced.

1971 Sikkim

No information is available about the present location of elements on this short film although Ray admirers believe them to be somewhere in the USA under control of Hope Cook, former queen of Sikkim.


1972 The Inner Eye

This Eastmancolour negative has tears at notches, some repaired with mylar and others not repaired. It is otherwise in good condition, as is a 35mm interpositive.


1973 Ashani Sanket (The Distant Thunder)

This negative is at Gemini Film Laboratory, Madras; however, I did not examine it.

1974 Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress)

This negative is at Gemini (Madras) and I did not examine it.


1975 Jana Aranya (The Middle Man)

This negative is in very good condition and should be printed without unusual difficulty.


1976 Bala

I have no information about the negative of this short colour documentary.


1977 Shatranj Ke Khilari  (The Chess Players)

According to producer Suresh Jindal, this negative is at Brent's, London, and is in good condition. Producer states that he has an interpositive, as does Pune.

1978 Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God)

According to producer R.D. Bansal, this negative is at Prasad Laboratories, Madras, and is in good condition.


1980 Hirak Rajar Deshe (The Kingdom of Diamonds)

I studied portions of this negative on a colour analyzer and found the colour to be well preserved... There are early signs of the dreaded vinegar syndrome. This film is probably a prime candidate for early protection with an interpositive and track print.


1980  Pikoo

The negative of this French production is in France and no information was available to me.


1981 Sadgati (Deliverance)

I have no information about the negative of this colour film produced by Doordarshan (Government of India TV).


1984 Ghare Baire (The Home and the World)

This negative is at Prasad Laboratories, Madras, and is in good condition.

1987 Sukumar Ray

I checked portions of this short film negative on a colour analyzer and found the colour to be excellent. The physical condition of the negative is good and an excellent wet-gate interpositive could be produced.


1989 Ganashatru (An Enemy of the People)

This negative is at Prasad Labs, and is in very good condition.


1990 Shakha Proshakha (Branches of a Tree)

The negative of this Gerard Depardieu production is in France, and no information was available to me.


1991 Agantuk (The Stranger)

The original negative was examined at Adlabs, Bombay. It has digs in the emulsion and has been fotoguarded; the original sound negative was poorly processed and prints made from it will have extraneous noise.




Restoration of Ray's Seemabaddha completed

Beverly Hills, CA, August 9, 2001. The restoration of Satyajit Ray's Seemabadha (1971) has been completed by the

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Academy Film Archive, in conjunction with the Satyajit Ray Society in Calcutta, India. This is the eleventh Ray title to be restored as part of an Academy program dedicated to insuring the preservation and restoration of as much as possible of the output of the master filmmaker's forty-year career.

Seemabadha is the second film in Ray's "City Trilogy." The story focuses on the rise of an executive, Shyamalendu Chatterjee, up the corporate ladder at an English fan manufacturing company.

The restoration of Seemabaddha began in earnest in January 2000. The film's original black-and-white camera negative and soundtrack negative were provided to the Academy Film Archive from the film's original producers through the Ray Society, and a search was conducted for a colour sequence which appeared in the original release prints of the film but was missing from most prints made subsequent to that release.

"Near the beginning of the film, the main character, Shyamal (Shyamalda) Chatterjee, attends a screening of a commercial for his company's ceiling fans,"

explained Michael Pogorzelski, Director of the Academy Film Archive. "It is about one minute long and was simply deleted from many prints made after the film's original release. In fact, one print we found in distribution in North America was not only missing the color sequence, but the entire reel the sequence appeared in."


Ultimately, an interpositive of the colour sequence was recovered in India and used to create a new colour negative of the sequence. The scene was then hand-spliced into every new print of Seemabadha, just as it would have been in the film's original release prints.


The colour sequence was but one challenge in the restoration process. According to Pogorzelski, the climate conditions of India are among the worst for film storage. "Acetate films need to be stored in cool, dry conditions. The climate in India is the opposite: warm and humid."

Long term storage of film in India often results in the growth of mould spores, which feed on the gelatins in the film emulsion, then grow and die. The dead spores can be removed, but the picture or sound information which was contained on the film is altered permanently. "There often is nothing left beneath the mould," says Pogorzelski. In the case of the soundtrack, the original film elements and a print that had been recovered were the primary sources.

The areas which contained dropouts or missing information were filled in from alternate sources or restored using digital technology. A new soundtrack was then re-recorded and married to the new, completely restored picture elements.


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

8949 Wilshire Boulevard Beverly Hills

CA 90211-1972

(310) 247-3000

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