The National Film Archive of India

In the wake of my father’s death and trying to get back to my regular routine and caught up at work, I am not finding the time and energy yet for regular reviews and so forth; but with his kind permission I wanted to share a little excursion to the Film Archive in Pune which my friend Ed took recently. He was given a nice tour of the place with his buddies and bandmates Suba and Dylan, and they took some wonderful photographs which Ed has organized into a gallery with his signature witty commentary. I am so encouraged by what people who work there had to say about their work and their plans, and to see their dedication.

Let’s give them a big HOORAY, and support them in whatever way we can! Do follow the link to Ed’s gallery if, like me, visiting the Archive is not something you can easily otherwise do. The photos and Ed’s captions make me almost feel like I have been there now, and it is definitely a priority for my next trip to India. They have some films I want to see!

(And check out Ed’s band—Autorickshaw—and his tabla blog while you’re at it!)

85 Comments to “The National Film Archive of India”

  1. Yay, Memsaab! Welcome back! There’s a little talk on vamps waiting to cheer you up in a few days.

  2. This is BEYOND AWESOME!!!

    It makes me want to go there RIGHT NOW!!! I could LIVE in this place!!!

    A zillion thanks to Ed for taking these beautiful pics – I feel like I’m having the tour with him. Have to appreciate also his attention to detail and his comments. Ed, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I am rarely lost for words – but, seeing all these pics, this time I am.

    Let me recover a bit – then I may post more.

    *Breathe, Raja, breathe*

  3. wow, this is an honour! :)

    I am planning another trip, as I didn’t see the documentation archive (posters! photographs!! song booklets!!!) or the audio restoration and archive [swoon] and I will post another gallery for sure.

    I’m happy to answer any questions anyone might have (or take them with me and return with answers) since there was such a barrage of information, I *know* I’ve forgotten 1/2 of it already…

    If you get a chance to visit, I heartily encourage it…the folks at NFAI are passionate, dedicated and generous. Plus there’s a Barrista coffee shop right across the street, so you can recover afterwards ;)

    peace and love from Pune!

  4. Well we look forward to a Part 2 Ed with documentation and sound! Maybe if we get enough props here for those working at NFAI you can send them here to have a look ;-) WE LOVE OLD MOVIES! THANK YOU FOR TAKING CARE OF THEM! And we TOTALLY SUPPORT YOUR EFFORTS TO SHARE THEM WITH US!!!!

  5. So sorry to hear about your father.

  6. This is amazing! I’m envious and grateful at the same time. So MANY old films…heaven!

    Clearly, I need to get serious about visiting India this year!

  7. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!1 like WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    It must be so great working there and surely very frustrating at times!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Ed says that the people working there very much want to make the films they have available for the general public to buy, but that “higher-ups” in the government are balking at it. Truly it must be frustrating to work for bureaucrats who have no vision, no sense of history, no appreciation for art and what it means to people.

  8. OMG, I would love to work there!

  9. Memsaab, this is AMAZING!!! Loved all the pics!

    And I am really embarassed to say that I passed the NFAI twice everyday for 4 years on my way to college, and never thought of going in.

    Next time I go to India, I will definitely visit

  10. Very cool…it’s nice to see that films are being stored and cared for in a manner similar to archives like the Library of Congress. Now, if only sharing was part of the mandate.

    My guess is that they probably also have Hollywood films that are missing from other archives, since unique copies of silent films are often located at the “end of the line” for shipping, when it was too expensive to send the films back to the US after the run was over.

  11. WOW!!!!! I hope someone from NFAI sees the post and realizes how many volunteers they could recruit :)


    • I thought of that too…where are your lint-free gloves???!!! maybe we should send them boxes of lint-free gloves…

      or tweezers.

      What do they need, museum professional?

  12. My deepest sympathies to you on the passing of your father. He sounded like a wonderful man.

    I know it is very hard to get back to “normal” after a loss like that; so thank you so much for giving us something wonderful to read as you attempt to do just that.

    Thanks too to Ed for sharing these wonderful pictures. Such treasures!

    Unfortunately, everywhere, film preservation is a race against time and bureaucracy, not to mention the enormous expense involved.

    If I had it to do over, I’d love to work in film preservation.

    Thanks again, Greta!

    • Thanks Suzanne, yes it will take a while before I feel “normal” again (whatever that is!!!) but this blog will help me with it too so I hope to stop neglecting it soon.

      Me too on the film preservation—I was always interested in doing art restoration, but this would be even more rewarding now I think. But I’m too old and tired to go back to school :(

  13. The NFAI do share their ‘loot’ with the film students across the road, at FTII. :) They also do send their precious prints to festivals, which are usually open to the public. I am sure once they digitize, they will be able to share more. Of course, there will be copyright issues in making it available to general public as in selling, etc.

    Ed, lovely photos.

    It was so nice to see the archives from a visitor’s POV. Of course, even while we were at FTII, we never took the NFAI for granted. We were so aware of the privileges we had, in being able to watch these prints.

    Specially at a time before DVDs and internet, when one screening of a rare print was probably all you’d manage in your years at the Institute.

    And we were lucky, one screening every evening. :)

    • Banno is absolutely correct…the copyright issues are the sticking point. They’re prioritizing digitization for 1) films that are out of copyright (after 60 years) and 2) films that are deteriorating. It *seemed* to me that a researcher could get anything they have right now (i.e. they will digitize if need be) but I’m not 100% sure…perhaps someone from the NFAI will comment and clarify the position? (hint hint!;)

      What WAS clear however, is that they will never be able to release films commercially…but I’m not sure how they will be available if that’s the case…perhaps on a case-by-case basis? I’ll try to get clarity, but the director has already been very generous with his time, so I don’t want to push my luck.

      Re: Memsaab’s reply to Harvey: I’m not entirely clear on what the sticking points are, and who the higher-ups are, and I’d hate to get anyone in trouble, so I’ll just say that they are working on it, but it’s a complicated issue (as you can imagine) and I wonder if the Gov’t will be able to take some sort of national ownership of films once they’re out of copyright…totally have no idea how that’d work though…

      • Tala-wallah, Yes, they do give access to any film you want, and you can watch it in their premises, if you are a researcher. You just need to fill a form, or make a prior appointment or something, but it’s simple, and not too bureaucratic.

    • the NFAI website might clarify their position…tricky to navigate though!:

    • If these awful DVD companies can get copyright permissions to mutilate films and put them out there, surely the NFAI can…I am sure that money is an issue but wouldn’t it be nice if sales of films and digital archives could help the NFAI pay its way too?

      As far as the government goes, I’ve been talking with people in India for a few years now about the sad state of preservation and Indian film dvds/vcds, and almost everyone I discuss it with says that the government will never get its act together to do anything about it, and the private sector is only interested in making money—and so we are back full circle to the awful dvd companies and the atrocities we have to deal with now.

  14. All I can say is it is a National treasure which should be shared with the World, if and how it will be done, well, frankly the powers above guide us.

    Let us hope no more treasure is lost due to factors which could have been easily adopted earlier to save these gems. I mean cold storage, vaults etc etc.

    I am just a movie buff along with many others who sincerely hope we get to see these phillums.

    Cheers and good luck to all who are trying to do a fab job… and Memsaab good to see yu back again, time will def heal this terrible loss, near and dear ones are so hard to replace, but memories will ensure yr Pa is always there for yu folks.


    • Putting the fate of Indian cinema history in the hands of the powers above is not really going to do any good, I’m afraid :) Thanks Ash for your kind words, Dad is irreplaceable but we will have to go on without him. I’m grateful for all the many wonderful memories I have of him of good times spent together.

  15. My sincere condolences on the bereavement. As is said so often ‘Honi ko kaun taal sakta hai?’ (Who can avoid the inevitable?) I am sure your father will be so pleased with you to see so many good people praying for his soul through this post.

    Good to see you back.

  16. Since I live in Pune, I’ve been to the NFAI a few times, esp. to the lovely little screening theatre. It is quite a treasure trove. Have never been inside the storage and processing areas, so these photos reveal quite a bit. There was a fire there a few years ago, and I believe they lost some prints or microfilms, so hopefully they’ll be able to finish digitization and make more of these rare films available to more people outside the film historian/student/film-maker community.

    Incidentally, the photo gallery (that also features Asha) shows all the winners of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award – India’s highest honour for a film-person.

    Thanks Ed and everyone for sharing these.

    • Ed got some great pictures of the fire extinguishers around the place :) Some real treasures have disappeared (Alam Ara, eg) because of fire…hopefully that tragedy will be something we don’t see again. Thanks for the info on the photo gallery too! :)

  17. Sorry for you loss! Read so much about him in your posts.

    And thanks Ed for sharing all these photographs. Who knew NFAI had this cool giant screencap making machine.

  18. Hi Greta,

    Sorry to hear about your dad. Hope you are better now :)

  19. Dear Greta,

    Sorry to hear about your bereavement. These are crosses we all have to bear some time or the other in life. May his soul rest in peace and may God give you the strength during this time of desolation.

    • Yes indeed…I know that everyone goes through this at some time and in different ways, and I am lucky that I have great memories and no regrets. I miss him a lot but time will heal it I know.

  20. Thank you so much for the information and sharing. I would have loved to be beamed up to Pune/Arhives right now.

    And it was a bit suprising to me how I felt a pang of pain in my heart when I read the first sentence of your post, I guess an emotional attachment was formed through reading your blogs (I too have lost my father, years ago, the painful feelings do not lessen in time but believe me you learn to live with them)

    May your father’s soul rest in peace.

    • Why are we not beaming places yet, why? If only we put half the effort and money into figuring out how to beam up instead of making war machinery and weapons, we’d be able to!

      You are sweet to feel a pang too…:) I have enjoyed sharing my family and memories on here occasionally. Bless you.

  21. So sorry to hear about your father. I’m sure he is exploring a better world up there.

    Have heard a lot about the Pune archives. Great to hear that they are digitizing the archives. Their editing machines remind me of countless Hindi B-spy movies, where such machines were decoders/communicators/what not; just if they could fit some light bulbs on them. :)

    • Ha ha! They need Christmas tree lights!!! Flashing ones! Yes some of those machines are very space-age in a B-movie kind of way. Sometimes those old workhorses are better than sleek new gadgets though :)

      • those old pieces of gear are really impressive in person…even more impressive that they still work!…I’m sure there are a few lights on them already, but a few more couldn’t hurt.

      • I was just thinking….the 70s have come back into fashion a few times now….has that ever happened in the Hindi movie scene? Can someone please make a modern retro 70’s film? And film it at the NFAI, with good music and flashing christmas lights on the film machines?? ;)

  22. Memsaab, my heartfelt condolences to you and your family on the passing of your father.

  23. Hello All; Memsaab really sorry for your loss, world is a different place now, irreplaceable, that is true, true;

    I have been in touch with the NFAI and explored their Offiical Site for my search on 1972 archival photos of Arthur Bunder Road Clubs. I did get a response that the FILM Institute has large collection of all Film Magazines, ie. Filmfare, etc.. and that they also have Original Photographs to research/view. One has to visit in person with proper Identification/justification to retrieve any archival information.

    You know being with you Memsaab, I have learned so much and I now must visit NFAI once in my lifetime; I mean for the love of Indian Cinema who wouldn’t – incomplete life journey would it be;

    NAFI is always appreciative of people who can contribute any artifacts, ie. Vintage Photos that are testimonial to Film History – any persons, etc. that you have connection with for instance;

    I had the pleasure to communicate with Ms. Anuradha Goyal who has penned a fascinating article, herein – those who have not see it; here is the link:

    I hope you will all enjoy this and should you find any contributions, please donate it to the NAFI – it is our Hertiage; they are always looking for people to participate;

  24. Please accept my heartfelt condolences memsaab on the sad occasion of the passing away of your beloved father.

  25. Please accept my condolences on the sad demise of your father. May his soul rest in peace. Nobody knows it better than me how it feels to lose a parent. But while I would like to leave you alone to come to terms with the loss I also feel tempted to recount an incident which happened at the FTII, since you have mentioned the NFAI in your post, it reminded me of the film institute as the NFAI was once a part of the FTII; I am not sure whether I mentioned it to you earlier but I will repeat it for it is an amusing incident which might cheer you up.
    When I was a kid dad decided to drive down to Poona(now Pune) for the weekend. While we were moving around the city and doing some shopping, some students from the institute spotted my dad and invited him over to the institute. We visited the institute. We were taken around and then the students did a short skit for dad. As part of the skit, one of the students were required to knock on the door and one of the other students who was playing some role was supposed to open it . I happened to be sitting next to the door and since I was a child I failed to comprehend that they were acting and the door knock was part of an act. I solemnly got up and opened the door. Everybody laughed indulgently and the door was shut once again and once again the student actor knocked, I once again got up and opened the door; It almost became impossible for them to finish the skit. I do not remember exactly what happened after that may be I was made to sit elsewhere. Nice to be a child no sense of embarrassment even in an embarrassing situation.

    • Hee—that is a wonderful story, especially that you didn’t just do it once, but kept on!!! Did you ever do anything like that on a movie set? :) *hugs to you and your mom and brother*

  26. Apart from the realisation that the NFAI has all these treasures, what impresses me the most is Ed’s view that the staff he came across were dedicated and passionate about their work.

    For me, this is very important because a job like working in the NFAI is not like a routine job at a corporation IMO. You need to have a sense of history, a sense of what it is that is going through your fingers, a passion for preserving legacy.

    Indian government institutions (and their employees) often get criticized for their lack of commitment to the job – in these pictures, I could see none of this. On the contrary, in these pictures, I sensed that the employees felt pride at what they were doing. And rightly so.

    So let’s give them encouragement and our support so that the wealth that passes through their hands and is stored in their vaults, which for us “old film” lovers is our repository too, can be preserved for future generations.

    • hear hear! :)

      I will pass all these sentiments on when I next visit, for sure.

    • But for the love of Helen, tell them to stop touching their collections with their bare hands! I’m totally serious – oils and invisible-to-us particles on your skin can destroy negatives, prints, films, etc. The picture Greta has posted above of that no doubt dedicated employee touching those materials breaks my heart. As she asked above, they need lint-free cotton gloves and other soft, non-abrasive, chemically inert materials. Digitization, as mentioned, will help a lot so that people can access the content of the materials without disturbing the materials themselves (which is what many researchers would be after).

      I’m working myself into a lather as we speak. Must. Back. Away. I’ll save my rant on the problems facing India’s cultural heritage for another place. :)

      • Good intentions are wonderful, yes, but they do need to be accompanied by training and education and the proper equipment!

        As I said somewhere above, it would be so nice if the different archives (the British Film Archive is pretty wonderful I hear) could get together and share their treasures from around the world and collaborate on preservation techniques etc. And now I feel I should start singing Kumbaya…

      • Excellent point, Beth. My comment about “what is going through your fingers” was definitely metaphorically meant and not literally so. :-)

        I think this is a very important point that Ed could take with him to NFAI on his next visit. I hope they are open to suggestions like this – after all it is for their own good too and it does look like it is more an awareness issue than anything else.

        As for your rant about problems facing India’s cultural heritage, I would love to hear it. I have reasonably strong views on this subject myself. Ok, strike out “reasonably”, let’s go with “very”.

        • Re my last paragraph above, it only further made me appreciate NFAI and its staff because they seemed not to fit the mould. So I think it is an awareness issue and not one of callousness. I certainly hope it is not a budget issue – that would be absolutely ridiculous!!!

  27. Dear Memsaab, I am sorry to hear of your father’s passing. Thank you for sharing memories of him in the things you have written.

  28. …I am not sure what is happening to my posts…

  29. Great post and fascinating gallery by Ed! Nice to see the NFAI is on the ball. I commend them for the fine job they appear to be doing. It’s too bad that they don’t have more films in their archive. When I searched on their website, I was hoping to see if they had a copy of Teesri Manzil. However, my search result was “title not found.” (: Sholay?… same result. I also searched for films with Shammi Kapoor: 17. Films with Helen: 21. Based on the amount of Shammi and Helen films they have, it appears that they probably have less than 5% of all the films made in India. Hopefully, what films they do have will someday be released uncut on a high quality DVD that will put the curent DVD and VCD makers to shame. :)

    • I worry that there might be (but I am not saying there is!!!) a somewhat “snobbish” approach to films too, where the so-called “B” movies are ignored and left out. Some of them are such gems, especially the music…but one of these days I will go there myself and ask! :)

      As far as their website goes….well, let’s just say they could use a better one. So it’s quite possible that the search there does not begin to cover everything they have.

  30. Big thank you to Ed, Suba and Dylan – I love those photos in Ed’s Gallery; and Memsaab, thanks for making NFAI your priority. I do wonder about Hollywood what they might have in their collection; I surely hope that you can explore this and take it to the next level;

    I will keep my eyes on this, this is most interesting;

  31. One g8 artist from the black and white era who really had flash and lights, lamps, monitors, labs, bulbs, control units for his hi tech spy and telecomm equipment was the master of disguises N A Ansari, just superb and original. After so many decades I still love to see these gadgets!


  32. Very sorry to hear about your father, Memsaab. I am grateful, though, that you were able to take the time this week to put up this great post. And gratitude to Ed for posting that gallery! (I checked out his band Autorickshaw a long time ago. In fact, I posted a clip of them on my own blog years ago, before I even knew that he was your friend! Can’t find it at the moment, but it must be back there somewhere – maybe you recall? Or Ed might – I think he wrote to me about it at some point.) And by the way, I had to use my own little screen capping machine to grab one of the film posters from that gallery, just to have it in my own gallery for now. (Not hard to figure out which one :)…)

    And, I must concur with your disappointment about the lack of beaming technology. It would be nice indeed if “we” developed beaming technology instead putting so much money into war and weapons. Though who knows, maybe all that money going into the military will enable military people to get beamed around some day. (Who gets to beam around on Star Trek? Look, they’re all part of the Military Industrial Complex!)

    • Well, I am grateful to Ed for giving me something easy to post about and doing all the actual work of it :) Maybe the Military Industrial Complex HAS figured beaming out but haven’t shared it with us; I wish they would if so :D

  33. Greta, My heartfelt condolences to you. Hope you and your family find the strength to bear the loss. As time passes the sweet remembrances will fill your day. Speakign from personal experience, there will be touching moments (even simple day to day events) that will make you remember your dad – his ideas, values, actions etc that will fill your heart.

  34. These are some amazing pictures, a big thank you to you and your friend for sharing, Memsaab!

  35. Very sorry to hear of your loss. I can sympathise, having gone through the same less than a year ago. My condolences to you and your family.

    • Thanks Bolly Blogger, I very much appreciate it :) I am sorry for your loss as well, it’s a tough one for sure. Hope that you are healing as time passes as I am sure I will.

  36. Memsaab,
    BOLLYWOOD:A HISTORY by MIHIR BOSE, published in 2006 is now ever so slightly dated, but is, nevertheless, arguably the best handbook of Popular Indian (HINDI) Cinema around. It recounts very early days of Indian Cinema and it’s evolution to today’s behemoth. Like any academic study there is a full bibliography and index at the back to quickly track down particular persons, films, or items of interest. I would recommend this to any film buffs or film critics having any interest in india at all, as a highly useful quick reference, or just as an enjoyable read with fascinating insights on every page.

  37. i am an architecture student and i want to visit the film archive for a case study purpose. Is there any one here who could get me drawings and photographs of this place and is it also open throughout the week.

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