US film academy to restore Satyajit Ray's 'Shatranj Ke Khiladi'

Kolkata, Nov 6 (IANS)Satyajit Ray fans in India have a good news. The maestro's Hindi classic "Shatranj Ke Khiladi" (The Chess Players) would be restored by the United States Academy of Motion Pictures, while his controversial documentary "Sikkim" may be screened for the first time in India at the upcoming Kolkata Film Festival.

"'The Chess Players', made in 1977, will be our next project. The funds have been allotted for the film. It will take a year to complete it," the Academy's noted preservationist Josef Lindner said at a press conference here Thursday.

The academy has so far restored and preserved 15 feature films and two documentaries - "Sikkim" and "Two" - of the Oscar winning filmmaker since 1992. While nine feature films were restored in the first package, the rest were worked upon in the second.

"The print of 'Sikkim' needed digital restoration. We hope to hold its video premiere towards the end of the (Nov 10-17) festival. The film will be ready for 35 mm screening by early next year," Lindner said.

An informed source said the copyright for "Sikkim", the hour-long documentary made in 1971 on the then princely state in the Himalayas, was now with a trust in Gangtok that claims to have got the no-objection certificate from the government and the clearance from the Censor Board.

The documentary, commisisoned by the then ruler of Sikkim, suffered double censorship of both the commissioner and the Indian government after the state's accession with India in 1975.

"We understand the copyright has been transferred to the trust. But there are a few ifs and buts before we can definitely say we will be able to screen it, as we are yet to get possession of the clearances," Lindner said.

Cinema buffs will also be able to watch the first-ever screening in the country of the bulk of the second package of Ray films preserved by the Academy.

The compositions include "Parash Pathar", "Joy Baba Felunath" and short film "Two". Besides, "Aparajito" - the second film in Ray's legendary Apu Trilogy - which was restored in the first package, will also be shown.

Ray's films, restored by the Academy in its second package, have earlier been screened in London, Washington, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

The first package of restored films were the Apu Trilogy, "Debi" (The Goddess), "Jalsaghar" (The Music Room), "Jana Aranya", and two of the three films that made up "Teen Kanya" (Three Daughters).

Talking about the cost of preserving and restoring Ray's films, Lindner said a colour film cost nearly $100,000 (Rs.4.7 million), while the black and white ones needed $50,000 on an average.

"But the cost varied from film to film. For instance, 'Abhijan' (The Expedition) required an amount of $75,000, as the print was in a very bad shape. Only the audio part cost us $26,000," he said.

Lindner added that for every film, the Academy has made either two master positives or one master positive and one master negative.

"We have preserved the master positives with us," he said.

Asked about the interest in Ray among young Americans, noted US film critic Peter Rainer said: "Frankly speaking, there is very little interest about Ray. The young generation has no sense of film history. But even in his heyday, unlike Federico Felini, Ray did not have such a fan following. He was adored by a select group."

Lindner, however, said two retrospectives of the film director held in 2003 at Washington and Los Angeles, were very well received.

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