Incredible as it may sound, some original sketches drawn by a national icon like Satyajit Ray are missing from a West Bengal-administered film school and centre, Roopkola Kendro. These sketches, remarkable for their life-like appearance, were published in Sandesh -- a children’s magazine edited by Ray -- during the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Also missing are the digital versions of the master’s scripts and stories, which he wrote for Sandesh.
Some brilliant sketches are among those that are missing, and they include those of a parrot, a woodpecker and an elephant showering water.
This writer during his days in what was then Calcutta had often seen Ray sketch in his study -- immersed in what he was creating. It used to be awe-inspiring to see Ray at work in his room as it was while he was on a set.
Initially after Ray’s death in 1992, the sketches, created with thick black pencil, remained with a regular contributor to Sandesh. They were later donated to the Kendro.
Ray’s son Sandip told the media recently that he had not been aware of the original sketches, but knew about the digitised versions.
In recent years, there have been efforts to preserve Ray’s artefacts as well as his movies. The Apu trilogy -- Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar -- has just been restored by Criterion Collection in New York. This has been an unbelievable feat, given the fact that the master negatives of the Apu trilogy were damaged in a fire at Henderson’s Film Laboratories. So their restoration after a decade by Criterion has been nothing short of a miracle.
The works of many legendary Indian directors like John Abraham, G Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan are either lost forever or crying to be restored. Only two of the 11 Adoor movies, Elippathayam and Kathapurushan, have been restored by Second Run DVD in London. A DVD version of his Nizhalkkuthu is also available.
Indian art cinema is precious for its documentation of the country’s history, and needs to be preserved at any cost.