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Getting the big pixel


Digitising old Indian films for re-release is a trend that appears to have caught on. It may also help preserve old classics

It kicked off with Mughal-e-Azam a few years ago. Then came Hum Dono and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. Chashme Buddoor is the latest, and will soon be followed by Raja Harischandra, Guide, Do Bigha Zameen, Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool and Agneepath. Hindi cinema is clearly riding a nostalgia wave by digitising and re-releasing old classics. These films are either being coloured (if they were black and white to begin with) or having their quality (sound, picture) significantly enhanced. Besides, for many old gems rotting away in musty vaults, this trend may also be a matter of life or celluloid death. 

Sai Paranjpye's Chashme Buddoor is a good example. Last week, a specially remastered edition released 30 years after it first hit screens. Incidentally, its remake (directed by David Dhawan) also made it to multiplexes on the same day. 

So what's with this rush for digitisation ? The intersection of smart economics and nostalgia apparently. Many classics have high recall value (which is largely why some get remade) and elicit immediate reactions, always a marketer's delight. And for most film buffs, a re-release is seen as a chance for younger generations to share a special experience on the big screen with older folk looking to relive fond memories. 

The process of restoring original negatives (see box) makes these films a good prospect for further DVD release and making money from the long tail of film distribution. "My film's negatives were in tatters. Since the film was made 30 years ago it was in bad condition. Digitisation helped restore its negatives and made it more viable for DVD sales, " says director Kundan Shah, whose cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) was re-released in 2012 by National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) in association with PVR Cinemas. 

For Jayshree Makhija, sister of the late Gul Anand - Chashme Buddoor's original producer - restoration became necessary about five years ago. "Unlike Hero Hiralal (1988) and Jalwa (1987), whose prints have been completely destroyed, I realised that Chashme Buddoor can be salvaged given the resources. " 

So, despite Paranjpye's resentment of the Dhawan remake, Makhija sought to raise funds under the guidance of industry veteran Krishna Shetty. Soon, cinematographers like Virendra Saini (who shot the original movie) and Hiroo Keswani joined Makhija and supervised the restoration process free of charge. "These are people who are passionate about the film and did it for the love of cinema, " says Makhija, who adds that the film's lead actress, Deepti Naval, was very pleased with the results. "Deepti said that you've given us a gift, " says Makhija. 

NFDC plays a key role in digitisation and has restored about 87 films, both regional and Hindi. "These films have been restored and digitised in all formats - 2K (highest resolution), HD (for satellite) DCI (digital cinema) and standard definition, " says Vikramjit Roy, general manager, production and marketing, NFDC. 

NFDC has also begun the process of offering these films across the value chain: in theatrical, home video, television and digital platforms. "We released Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron theatrically on November 2, 2012 and recently, Salaam Bombay (March 2013). Further, under the brand 'Cinemas of India', we've created a market for our catalogue through the DVD format. We are now exploring the opportunity to take these titles across television and video on demand (VoD) platforms, " says Roy. 

While some argue that the tepid box office response to such digital re-releases militates against the trend, people like Makhija believe that restoration is vital to preserving old classics, the cultural artefacts that they are. "I do not have a target audience and don't know whether the youth will like my film or not. But such films are going to be colourful, interactive and stay with you because they are about an era. It's the 'wow' factor of Indian cinema, " says Makhija, as she mentions a long list of films that need restoration starting with Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi. 

Roy agrees and claims that NFDC's digitised titles have fared rather well in the market. "The fact that we have released 50-plus films on home video, all of which are classics, reiterates our commitment to showcase old favourites to contemporary audiences, " he says. 

It's a sentiment many an Indian filmlover is likely to appreciate. 


Step 1 | 

Finding the source material of the film and sound negatives, as well as inter-negatives. Films may also be on tapes, cassettes, etc 


Step 2 | 

'Ultra Cleaning Process', where this source is carefully cleaned 


Step 3 | 

The material is scanned 


Step 4 | 

Defects are carefully identified and corrected 


Step 5 | 

Digital and manual restoration process begins simultaneously, done frame by frame 


Step 6 | 

Colour correction and grading. At this stage the cinematographer and director of the film get involved in the grading process. They also check the restored film for changes 

Sound restoration for the film is done separately 

Once both processes are completed the picture and sound are matched and transferred to different formats 

The cost of digitisation for one film is around Rs 5 lakh. The process takes 3-4 weeks 

The cost of restoration is around Rs 15 lakh, which includes both picture and sound correction. Restoration may take 2-6 months, depending on the process required due to the quality of the source material

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