Better grab an eyeful of Uttam Kumar on the big screen during the seven-day film feast starting on Sunday to commemorate his 25th death anniversary. For, most of Bengal's greatest matinee idol's work is fast falling prey to seasonal wear and tear due to lack of preservation.
'It is true that a lot of his films are shown on television, but that can hardly match the big screen magic,' says Sadhan Bagchi of Shilpi Sansad, which is organising the festival.
The week-long festival will have seven Uttam Kumar films, co-starring seven of his leading ladies. The curtains go up with Chhadmabeshi on Sunday, in the presence of Madhabi Mukherjee. The others to follow are Deya Neya (Tanuja), Ekhane Pinjar (Aparna Sen), Bhrantibilash (Sabitri Chatterjee), Amanush (Sharmila Tagore), Stree (Arati Bhattacharya) and Harano Sur (Suchitra Sen). There will be two shows every day, at 3 pm and 6 pm.
Shilpi Sansad was set up by Uttam Kumar as a breakaway faction from Abhinetri Sangha. It produced Banpalashir Padabali, Dui Prithibi and Rudrabina to fund its efforts. 'So far, we have distributed about Rs 30 lakh among needy artistes. The festival is aimed to raise money for a housing project for them. It is pathetic to have veteran actresses like Rama Devi dying on the streets,' Bagchi says.
Uttam's work may be alive, but his works are under threat. Of the 206 released films the screen icon had acted in, about 100 can never be seen on the big screen as neither the master negative nor the prints survive. Saheb Bibi Golam, Bosu Paribar, Nishipadma, Chandranath, Khona-Boraho' all are now history. 'Now that there is no market for black-and-white films, the distributors do not care to preserve the negatives,' rues Bagchi. What the television channels have in their possession are beta cassettes containing the transfers of the original negatives. They cannot be transformed to 35 mm prints required for viewing in theatres.
Says Ramlal Nandi of Chhayabani: 'Most of us who are happy making money from video and satellite rights do not realise that the cassettes they have got made are of limited longevity. It is the master negative that one can come back to for transfers in any format.' Chhayabani perhaps is the only distribution house that has preserved its films. 'About 20 Uttam films are safe at our India Film Laboratory,' Nandi says. But he too is unsure about the future. 'The films need to be kept in a proper archive. My expertise is not adequate.' Four films from his collection will be shown at the festival. Another two will come from the government's store of five prints.
Then there is the lack of interest from producers. Nandi has preserved only the films Chhayabani has produced. 'But there are about 40-50 films lying with us that we had distributed. I cannot run a check on them without permission and payment from the producers.' So there is no knowing whether Bipasha, Sanyasi Raja or Kal Tumi Aleya are in restorable condition.
Bijoy Kankaria of Ranjit Pictures owns some 300-400 black-and-white Bengali titles. 'I have sent about 30-40 prints to the National Film Archive in Pune.' Busy with his own business, he hardly has the time to travel and do the paperwork for the preservation of the remaining films, like Sagarika. 'We need an archive here,' he points out.
Says Madhabi, 'It took a David Packard to restore Satyajit Ray's films. With neither the current generation of actors nor the chief minister taking any interest, why only Uttambabu's, films of Chhabi Biswas and Suchitra Sen are also under threat.'
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta and PWD minister Amar Chowdhury will be on the dais on Sunday. With the government citing lack of funds to earlier petitions for preservation, that is unlikely to make a difference. So enjoy the Uttam fare while it lasts.
Blowing in the windz
Their journey has continued through numerous line-up changes for 15 years. Their sound in the past few years has been refreshing in its blend of Bangla folk and Western rock.
Now, Krosswindz (in performance at Someplace Else pictured right) is gearing up with its sixth studio album, Misiki Misiki, scheduled for release next month.
'The title comes from michki michki hashi (a mischievous smile) spoken in a dialect,' explains Bikramjit Banerjee, guitarist and a founding member of the band.
The 11-track album was recorded in the home studio of Bikram and Chandrani (his wife and vocalist of Krosswindz) and will be released by Sagarika. 'There is baul, jhumur and goalbari songs on Misiki Misiki, done in a way that Krosswindz would approach folk, incorporating world music elements,' offers Chandrani. Besides 10 traditional tunes ' five on the love between Radha and Krishna ' the album features a song penned by Chandrani, called Jajabor Pokkhhi.
Jhiko Jhiko, Krosswindz's last album released in 2004, was one of the most successful ones for the band. 'We're actually getting royalty for the first time from an album,' exclaims Bikramjit. The mix of contemporary feel and exotic instruments like the Assamese dotara worked, he feels.
Tracks from Jhiko Jhiko were even played on Australian radio. 'They probably heard the songs over the Internet or from people carrying the sound back from Calcutta,' says Chandrani.
Krosswindz music has also featured in international compilations with One World and Mahut Bondhu finding a place on 2003's Music of the Globe, released by American independent label Joe Anthony Productions.
The current line-up of Krosswindz ' Nitin on bass, Ratanjit on keyboard, Avinash on drums and Dwaipayan on vocals ' is just over a year old, though the band was formed in 1990 in St Xavier's College and released its first single in 1993.
Recording the new album was quite a different experience for the kinds of sounds that Krosswindz experimented with ' from Peruvian folk to Indian violin. 'While we were recording, we heard this Indian violin seller playing on the street. We invited him in and asked him to play for the album' it was great,' recalls Bikramjit. 'A video of the title track is scheduled for September. And we are also planning to put together a celebration album on the 15th year of Krosswindz with unreleased material. Let's see how soon we're able to do that.'