From left: Nadia, Sulochana, Zubeida Begum, icons of Indian cinema
In January 2016, film scholar and author Lalitha Gopalan and I visited the archives of India’s Film Heritage Foundation, founded in 2014 by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur. Off the teeming streets of South Bombay, we entered a little haven dedicated to the moving image. What a joy! There to greet us were were the icons of early Indian cinema: Sulochana (aka Ruby Myers, India's silent film superstar who hailed from the Bagdadi Jewish community of Bombay), Nadia (aka Hunterwali, an Australian acrobat traveling with a Russian circus in India who became the stunt queen of the silent era), and Zubeida Begum (a Muslim princess from Gujrat who was a celluloid sensation and star of India's first talkie in 1931, Alam Ara)—all pictured in the posters above.
India's rich pre-independence cinematic history is all but lost in celluloid form; the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) was not created till 1964. This is the legacy that Dungarpur is trying to rescue and resurrect through his foundation, by bringing attention to the importance of preservation, restoration, and film education. Dungarpur's involvement with preservation work began with the British Film Institute’s restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's silent film The Lodger, to which he was a donor. Since then, he has collaborated with Martin Scorcese's World Cinema Fund to restore Uday Shankar's 1948 dance classic Kalpana—which screens at BAMPFA Saturday, May 6 at 3 PM— and Sri Lankan Master James Lester Peries' 1971 classic Nidhanaya. Dungarpur is also an accomplished filmmaker. He has made two films on the history of Indian cinema: Celluloid Man, a documentary about NFAI founder P.K. Nair that plays at BAMPFA May 6 at 6:30 PM, and The Immortals, commissioned by the Busan Film Festival, on the history of important artifacts in Indian film history.
As part of BAMPFA's Safeguarding Cinema series, Dungarpur joins us in person to introduce both films screening on May 6, when he will speak to the pains and pleasures of film preservation in India today.
—Anuj Vaidya, guest curator and codirector of 3rd i SF International South Asian Film Festival