Mumbai, Jan. 12: The Film and Television Institute of India and the National Film Archives of India may now have to pay in more ways than one for the loss of 619 nitrate films, including some of the country’s oldest film prints, in a fire at the institute on Wednesday.
A source close to the family of a producer who had gifted the institute some priceless prints of one of India's first black-and-white films expressed anger at the “carelessness of its caretakers”. Suing those responsible for the mishap has not been ruled out, the source said.
“We are deliberating on taking that stand,” he said. If the report sought by the information and broadcasting ministry pointed to “negligence or indifference on the part of the custodians, they would be held responsible for it”, added the source.
Preliminary investigations suggested that there was no electrical backup in the vault where the prints were kept, to tackle power cuts and fluctuating voltage — a common feature in Pune. “The fire was caused by a short circuit,” an institute source said, adding that films are highly inflammable.
Anshuman Dey, executive engineer with the central works department (electrical maintenance), said overloading of the storage vault could have been the cause for the fire, which was so intense that it took 60 fire brigade personnel to contain the blaze.
Archives body director K.S. Sasidharan said there was no problem with the maintenance of the vaults, which contained 5,000 reels and around 250 films. He said almost 99 per cent of the films had been copied on an acetate base and the rest could easily be duplicated.
However, institute director Prem Matiani said the loss was enormous. What was more worrying is that the safety material on the acetate was getting spoilt due to the “vinegar syndrome”, which happens when prints are not kept at proper temperatures.
The institute and the archives body are working at cross purposes and matters had not improved even after the government appointed two directors to head these bodies, said persons associated with the institute.
Apart from India’s first film, Raja Harishchandra, and other watershed films like Achhut Kanya, Bhabhi, Kangan, Janmabhoomi, Izzat, Navjeevan, Jeevan Prabhat, Kismat, all under the Bombay Talkies banner, the Prabhat productions lost Duniya Na Mane, Aadmi, Manus, Kunku, Amrit Manthan, and Sinhagad, a silent film.
Footage on World War II and the Indian freedom struggle was also damaged. Footage of Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi, Jinnah with Rajgopalachari, Subhash Chandra Bose with M.N. Ray and Vallabhbhai Patel also got burnt.
Some silent films that would never come alive on the projector are Lanka Dahan, Kalia Mardan, Diamond Queen, Pukar, Sikandar and Bharat Milap.
Films lost include Ayodhyecha Raja (1932), the first Marathi talkie, Narsinh Mehta (1932), the first Gujarati film and Andolan (1951).
A fire broke out this evening in a section of National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, fire brigade sources said. Fire-fighters rescued three scientists. There were no casualties, reports PTI.
Flames could be seen leaping from the organic technical branch. The cause of the fire is as yet unknown.