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Cinemaazi: Chronicling Indian Film Heritage and Its Unscripted Stories

February 1, 2020 | By

Cinemaazi, an initiative to chronicle, archive, curate, preserve and exhibit the mammoth cinema heritage of India, by far the world’s biggest and most varied film industry, was launched in New Delhi on January 31. A Silhouette report.

Sumant Batra, Rahul Rawail, Sharmila Tagore and Pankaj Udhas at the launch of Cinemaazi

Sumant Batra, Rahul Rawail, Sharmila Tagore and Pankaj Udhas at the launch of Cinemaazi (Pic: Bobby Sing)

Ask a movie lover of today’s generation about Sudhendhu Roy and the answer, after a thoughtful pause is likely to be, “you mean the art director?” Well, we have all loved the spectacular sets of Yahudi, the towering prisons of Bandini, the rustic village in Madhumati, the bobbing boats of Sujata, the dance floors of Karz, and those larger than life scenarios in Don, Karma and Shakti. But how often did we appreciate the extraordinary work of the production designer who made the scenes come alive in such meticulously crafted backdrops?

A short feature on the legendary art director Sudhendu Roy, neatly encapsulating his work in production design as well as his celebrated directorial ventures Uphaar and Saudagar, presented the intent of Cinemaazi at a gala formal launch at the Le Meridien in New Delhi on January 31. Legendary actress Sharmila Tagore and filmmaker Rahul Rawail formally inaugurated the initiative.

“There are so many people, costume designers, set designers, camera operators, makeup artists, whom we do not know about who contribute to a film’s success. It’s a collaborative effort. Cinema is a religion, which unites a diverse people, country, states. And I can bear witness to that. In South India, in Chennai, there was an anti-Hindi movement, and Aradhana ran for 15 weeks. Whenever the films are shown people laugh and cry together, get bored together. Despite our many diversities, languages, cuisine etc, which we cherish, the commonality far exceeds our differences,” said Sharmila Tagore. “I am so glad you are chronicling all this.”

With an aim to chronicle, archive, curate, preserve and exhibit the mammoth cinema heritage of India, Cinemaazi presented a slew of endeavours it has undertaken which include developing a comprehensive and reliable digital repository ‘Encyclopedia’ of Indian cinema (Hindi and other Indian languages), document the extraordinary legacies and contributions of the people and films, exhibit rare and colourful memorabilia from the collections of Cinemaazi founders Sumant and Asha Batra in the Cinemaazi Studio in New Delhi and crowd source memories and memorabilia in the Cinema Memory Project.

Rahul Rawail with Asha Batra at the cinemaazi studio

Rahul Rawail with Asha Batra at the Cinemaazi studio (Pic: Cinemaazi)

“We are trying to persuade the film industry which is holding on to so much information through memories and assets to share these with the world,” said Sumant Batra, an eminent lawyer, writer, poet and museum curator. Appreciating the help the initiative has been receiving from families of actors, filmmakers and technicians who have come forward to help, Sumant said that for example in Kolkata, 22 families from Bengali cinema have agreed to share their preserved assets. Sketches, stills, handnotes, posters and many such items were spread out in the drawing rooms by the families and the Cinemaazi team scanned these for archiving. Besides, they also met with Satyajit Ray’s chief still photographer Nemai Ghosh who even now has many stills that have not been presented to the world.

Cinemaazi will create digital content through articles, videos, photo essays, interviews, reviews etc authored by film scholars and historians, that will be exhibited through various sections on its website. Eminent editor and author Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri and film historian and author Gautam Chintamani are spearheading special segments such as the ‘Editor’s Social’ and ‘Cinemaazi TV’ where they profile and interview films and people through video essays and more.

The feature on Sudhendu Roy is one of the many short 3-5 minute videos or 20 minute docu-features and visuals that comprise the Encyclopedia of films and people. The teasers showcased at the launch included a video essay by Gautam Chintamani on late actress Divya Bharti who had a brief but spectacular career, and a short feature on passionate collectors.

Cinemaazi will also have an encyclopedia of songs. The ‘Story Telling’ section would recount the journeys of not only the famous stars, filmmakers but also untold stories of the supporting crew of technicians, make up artists, costume designers, still photographers, poster painters, musicians and other specialists who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes, excelling in their craft.

It was an evening to celebrate memories and share enchanting trivia. A discussion on music was presented by radio jockey RJ Stutee with Archisman Mozumder and Shankar Iyer of Team Rewind as part of the Har Song Kuch Kehta Hai series of 100 episodes that will come up in Cinemaazi. The trio explored two music pieces – the song Kuch dil ne kaha sung by Lata Mangeshkar in Anupama and the instrumental piece that rolls out the credits in Betaab. Shankar and Archisman explained how music director Hemant Kumar had used his favourite Raag Dhani with the vibraphone interludes and the flute to create a mood of peace and tranquility in tandem with the backdrop of the rolling hills and dales.

Shankar Iyer, RJ Stutee Ghosh and Archisman Mozumder

(L to R) Shankar Iyer, RJ Stutee Ghosh and Archisman Mozumder (Pic: Shankar Iyer)

Asked to share memories about this ethereal song, Sharmila Tagore recounted how film director Hrishikesh Mukherjee had walked into her makeup room and after appreciating how lovely she was looking had implored, ‘Rinku, can’t we do something about your hair?’ Sharmila laughingly recalled ‘I was so silly I didn’t listen to him’ and later on they had to minimize her buffaunt hairdo with some big close ups and top angle shots!

Deconstructing the musical piece in Betaab, Shankar and Archisman observed how composer RD Burman had used unusual musical instruments like the Donkey Jaw and castanets and pure acoustic guitar to compose the ‘Ennio Moricone’ kind of music used in the westerns. It created a feeling of expanse and pace right at the outset to establish the context of the film and its main character who is a rancher.

How this music piece was created is an interesting story. Rahul Rawail recalled that Pancham had asked for a special preview of the film so that he could explain the music to his team for the background score as he had to leave for the US for the release of Dard Ka Rishta. The preview was arranged for him at 6 in the evening at Dimple theatre. He liked the film and said he was going to tell Manohari Singh to look into this. “At 3 in the morning, there was a knock on my door. And I woke up and opened the door and Pancham was standing there. And he said, come with me. I said, at this time? Where? He said, just come with me. And he took me to his house where all his musicians were there. I said, ‘You were going to America?’ He said, ‘No Rahul. I saw the film yesterday. And I am not going to America.’ He said I have composed the title music and I want you to hear it. And if you feel it is right, then we go ahead with this score on that basis.”

Rahul Rawail said that tremendous 11-minute music piece was composed that night to emphatically introduce Sunny Deol (it was his debut film). The whole background score of the film “was all Pancham, the magic of Pancham”. Another amusing triva about Betaab Rawail shared was that when they ran out of bucking brown horses, they had to paint a white horse and then a black horse with brown boot polish to make them resemble brown horses!

vintage camera and film reels

Vintage camera and film reels from the Cinemaazi collections on display at the launch (Pics: Antara)

“The resource for the history of Indian cinema is scanty and very little is available on B-grade, C-grade and regional cinema. This is primarily because films and related materials are highly perishable items and people who hold the knowledge in their memory have grown or or have already left us,” said co-founder Asha Batra. “Cinemaazi is an attempt to bring all the stakeholders together to preserve the heritage as accurately as possible in digital medium, focusing on the lesser known.”

Vintage spools and tape slicer

Vintage spools and tape slicer from Cinemaazi collection on view (Pics: Antara)

Cinemaazi aims to chronicle over 35000 films in Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Garhwali, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and other language cinema from the year 1913 to 1999 and careers of over 5000 people associated with filmmaking.

Some interesting figures presented in the Cinemaazi brochure that portray the mammoth size of the Indian film industry:

    • Approximate number of films made every year: 1800
    • Languages in which films are made: 20+
    • Gross box-office realization: $2.1 billion
    • Value of the film industry: $138.2 billion
    • Number of people going to cinema every day: 12 million
    • Single-screen theatres: 9000
    • Multi-screen theatres: 2100
Vintage gramophone, radio and film editing machine

Vintage gramophone, radio and film editing machine (Pics: Antara)

More to read

The Golden Thread of Bengali Cinema: A Journey Through 100 Years

India’s Vanishing Films Need Urgent Policies to Avoid a Bleak Future

For the Love of Cinema – the Story Behind the Calcutta Film Society

The World of Javed Akhtar: 124 Rare Exhibits to Celebrate the Legend’s 75th Year

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Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine As a professional business journalist, Antara spent 14 years covering business stories but alongside kept alive her passion for writing on cinema. She writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema and her articles aim to provide well-researched, complete and accurate information on the legends of cinema for the movie enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house and recently edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. Her articles have also been published in Dearcinema.com and Du-kool.com. Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
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One thought on “Cinemaazi: Chronicling Indian Film Heritage and Its Unscripted Stories

  • Subha Das Mollick

    In Kolkata Biren Das Sharma was an avid archivist. His untimely death two years ago was a big jolt for cinema historians. His widow and children can be contacted to check out what is being done with the collection. Also, Cinemazi should get in touch with Anjan Bose, proprietor of Aurora Studio.

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