The Cinema Centenary Building, close to Bangur hospital in Tollygunge, is abuzz with activity but the 27th Kolkata International Film Festival, for which it is a venue, is not the only reason.
A project has been undertaken under a state government-supported initiative to restore the films and news reels preserved in the vaults at the Cinema Centenary Building and Rupayan lab.
In another welcome development for Bengali film viewers and makers, the 152-seat auditorium on the ground floor of the building will be opened for regular public screening from May 6. So far it was used only during the film festival. Ticket rates are expected to be the same as at Nandan, another government hall.
Four of the first lot of films to have been restored under the project will be screened at the festival, which will be inaugurated on Monday. These are three of Satyajit Ray’s films Hirak Rajar Deshe, Sonar Kella and Sukumar Ray, and Gautam Ghose’s eponymous documentary on Ray. “We have restored the Ray films while Ghose’s film has been digitised,” said Nairanjana Bhattacharya, director, films.
“The idea was mooted about five years ago. We have many films, including those by Manik da (Satyajit Ray), Ritwik (Ghatak) da, Mrinal (Sen) da, Buddhadeb (Dasgupta), Rajen Tarafdar and me, in the government vaults. I had alerted chief minister Mamata Banerjee that each passing day was pushing these treasures towards destruction. She had promised support instantly. The project is underway with support from the National Film Archive of India, Pune,” said Ghose.
Along with films, there are documentaries and newsreels, the total inventory running to about 800. “The state government used to commission news reels every month since the late 1960s. I had made the 40th in the series in 1972 when I was starting out,” Ghose recalled while speaking to The Telegraph.
The reels capture momentous occasions like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s address at the Brigade Parade Grounds in presence of Indira Gandhi in 1972 as also discussions featuring theatre and literary luminaries.
“If we can digitise them, we can preserve the story of those times. If Bengal does this, it will inspire other states to do the same.” Ghose said.
Old timers are nostalgic at the start of screening at the centenary building as the plot used to house Radha Studio, which saw the birth of Doordarshan in Calcutta in 1975 before it moved to its current premises in Golf Green. The hall has been named Radha Studio, in a nod to its past. The new signage was put up on Friday.
Before housing Doordarshan, Radha Studio had seen the shooting of countless films, with the 1963 re-lease Badshah, starring Kali Banerjee and with music by Hemanta Mukherjee, being one of the last.
“Radha Studio had the best lights which they used to rent to outside units too. It will be good for the local film industry to have another hall to exhibit our films,” said Anjan Bose of Aurora Films.