Cannes Diary: The tale of two classics

May 21 marked the world premiere of the 4K restored version of the 1978 G. Aravindan classic—Thampu—in the Cannes Classics segment at the Cannes Film Festival. The beautiful, meticulously restored print brings alive the magic created on screen by Aravindan’s observational eye as he goes about capturing the minutiae of daily rhythms of a roving circus setting base in a village.

The new restoration has been carried out by the Film Heritage Foundation, The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and Cineteca di Bologna at Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd.’s Post – Studios, Chennai and L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory. It has been done in association with General Pictures, National Film Archive of India and the family of G. Aravindan. Funding was provided by Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd. and Film Heritage Foundation.

It was heartening to see the entire team behind the project present at the screening in Salle Bunuel, including Jalaja, the actress of the film, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder director of Film Heritage Foundation, Prakash Nair, producer, General Pictures, Natraja Thangavelu of Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd. and Cecilia Cenciarelli of Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.

still from classic movie Pratidwandi

Jalaja recalled it being her debut and things coming a full circle with the Malayalam language film being screened in Cannes 44 years after its official release. Since the original camera negative of Thamp was missing, the source material used was a dupe negative struck from a 35 mm print, which was at the National Film Archive of India, informed Dungarpur.

Two days earlier, the same Salle Bunuel, saw the screening of yet another lovingly restored 1970 Indian classic—Pratidwandi—the first of Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy. Presented by NFDC—National Film Archive of India, the film has been restored under National Film Heritage Mission, a project undertaken by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India. The original 35mm camera negative, which was scanned in 4K on ARRISCAN XT, and the original 35mm sound negative were provided by producer Purnima Dutta for the restoration. Few portions of the negative were damaged and were instead scanned from a 35mm release print. The restoration was carried out by Prime Focus Technologies, Mumbai, and grading was supervised by renowned Indian cinematographer, Sudeep Chatterjee.

The angst and frustrations of the educated youth, the political chaos, corruption and joblessness—a lot from Ray’s world back then holds meaning and relevance, given the contemporary reality. It was heartening to see young cinephiles, as much as old fans, lining up for the show. Ray, clearly, is a legacy that is still being passed on from one generation to the next when it comes to Indian cinema on a global platform. He continues to be the face of Indian cinema worldwide.

still from classic movie Thamp
still from classic movie Thamp

However, unlike the befitting grace and dignity of the Thampu presentation, Pratidwandi introduction was a cursorily put together affair with a government official reading out the dry details of restoration. None of the people behind the project, nor the members of the original cast and crew were present at the screening.

With a little forethought actor Dhritiman Chatterjee and restorer Sudeep Chatterjee could have been brought in to put the film and restoration in perspective for the eager audience at Cannes. Forget them, even filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, part of the official Indian entourage, could have brought in some of his own accumulated wisdom and knowledge of filmmaking to the occasion.

It’s not often that two Indian films get presented in the Cannes Classics segment in a single year. Pratidwandi specifically features in the Cannes Classics segment as part of Marche du Film’s India Focus. The ministry itself has been proudly flaunting the film. Why then this indifference at the last mile? The disregard of the Indian contingent to this significant screening has been inexcusable. Ray certainly deserved better.