US print key to Sikkim release

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 20.09.10

The government may have lifted the ban on Satyajit Ray’s controversial documentary Sikkim, made 39 years ago, but it would have to buy a copy of the film’s print from the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences of the US to make it available to the Indian audience.

“If the Indian government wants to make Sikkim available for screening, it will probably have to purchase a copy of the restored print from the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences,” said Satyajit’s filmmaker son Sandip.

Commissioned by the Chogyal (ruler) of Sikkim in the late 1960s, the 52-minute documentary made in 1971 was banned by the government when the Himalayan kingdom merged with India in 1975.

The copyright of the film was later transferred to the Art and Culture Trust of Sikkim.

Taking Ray by surprise, Sikkim came under double censorship — first from the Chogyal and then from the India government.

“The king and the queen of Sikkim had objected to a very interesting scene showing a royal feast. The queen Hope Cooke said it was ‘wicked’. So Baba had to cut a few shots but he was not happy with it at all. He had never faced such a situation before,” recalled Sandip.

“Baba was also taken aback when the India government decided to ban Sikkim because it highlighted the monarchy. Baba had always maintained that what the documentary showed was part of history.”

Locating a “workable” print of Sikkim for restoration turned out to be an arduous task.

A print that the Satyajit Ray Society retrieved from the Chogyal’s family was damaged beyond repair. Finally, a print that had made its way to London was traced and restored by the Academy of Motion Picture.

Sandip saw the restored copy a few years back at the Nantes Three Continents Film Festival in France.

Sikkim was part of a Satyajit Ray retrospective at the festival that year. It was very nostalgic for me,” said Sandip.

“Baba had been to this festival before, and shooting the documentary had been very difficult for him. We had gone to places like Lachen where it was very difficult to travel at that time. There was no electricity and we would work at night in candlelight. But despite the cuts, I think Sikkim would still be a very interesting documentary to see.”