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No place for Ray masters

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Kolkata (UNI): Almost half of Satyajit Ray masterpieces have been restored in the US, but cannot be brought back home for lack of a proper place to house them. The maestro's son Sandip Ray, Member Secretary of Ray Society, told UNI that 17 of 36 films by his father had been restored, but there was a problem in bringing them to the city. ''The AMPASA has completed restoration of some of the Ray classics, but they are in Los Angles. They will hand it over to us only when we have a vault in place, built to their specification. It's a very technically superior vault where different restored reels can be kept at different temperatures and away from any electrical circuit so that there is no chance of fire,'' he said. ''But the cost of making this vault is huge and along with this, we need a proper place to house it. These bottlenecks have deterred us from bringing the originals back to the city where they should be. However, we have got highly digitised remastered copies with us for now,'' he said.

Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Archives (AMPASA), like other film archives recognized by Federation International Archives of Film (FIAF) in Brussels, Belgium, follows a meticulous path in restoring films: treating the originals with utmost respect without attempting to improve upon their authenticity and integrity The original, when available, is the principal source of a fine grain film print or that of an inter-positive which is displayed as the candidate for restoration. The process involves frame by frame intensive work, occasionally turning to better quality surviving elements of unsubtitled 35mm film prints for replication when the original proves unusable.

The Satyajit Ray Society, in coordination with the Satyajit Ray FASC, has so far been instrumental in the restoration of such Ray classics as Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished), Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), Parash Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone), Jalsaghar (The Music Room), Devi (The Goddess), Teen Kanya (Three Daughters, excluding the part of Monihara) , Abhijan (The Expedition), Mahanagar (The Big City), Charulata (The Lonely Wife), Nayak (The Hero), Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha), Seemabaddha (Company Limited), Jana Aranya (The Middleman), and Kapurush-O-Mahapurush rpt Kapurush-O-Mahapurush (The Coward and the Holy Man). The other films that are now on the restoration anvil include Monihara and Kanchanjungha.

Sandip remembers that the process started with David H.Shepard, a noted film preservationist in California, coming to India to examine and file a technical report on the original negatives of Ray films. He was accompanied by Dilip K.Basu, Director of the Satyajit Ray FASC. Shepard found eighteen of Ray's thirty-six film-negatives in 'tatters'. His preliminary report regarding preservation of films by Satyajit Ray remains one of the most authoritative documents on Ray films. The urgent need for immediate restoration was more than obvious in that report --- a need that became even more urgent because six of Ray's classics, including The Apu Trilogy, were burnt in a fire at the Henderson Laboratories in London (1993), subsequent to Shepard's visit.

Contrary to a common misperception that Ray's films are not being digitally restored, it doesn't mean they will not be in the future, especially films such as Kanchenjunga (Sikkim) which do not have the original negatives any longer. It maintains an annual budget for Ray restorations. Additional funds have come from the Packard Humanities Institute, the Film Foundation, and Merchant-Ivory Foundation. Sandip Ray laments that the original scripts of Pather Panchali and Charulata are still missing. ''My father never bothered to take back things after he gave them and it is a monumental task to get the peices together,'' he added. But the problem at hand was to raise funds to help the dream come true and bring the films back to the city and built a Ray Museum to house it, Arup De, CEO of Ray Society, said.



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