Bollywood Nostalgia

Sheer neglect: rare documentary on Pankaj Mullick lost forever

By Khalid Mohamed

Pankaj Mullick

Pankaj Mullick

A valuable documentary on Pankaj Mullick, Bengal’s legendary composer-singer, actor and exponent of Rabindra sangeet − directed by Sai Paranjpye for Doordarshan  has vanished into a limbo.

“It’s such a pity,” says stalwart writer and director Sai Paranjpye. “My documentary has gone through the cracks. It’s lost forever.”

 The feature-length documentary was shot on 35 mm format just a few years before the maestro passed away in 1978 at the age of 73 and  contained some marvellously candid vignettes with the musician and his family.

“If I may say so,” Paranjpye rewinds, “there was this lovely moment of Pankaj Mullick’s wife winnowing rice on the terrace of their stately Kolkata home in the course of going about her everyday chores. On camera, he rendered that beautiful song Do naina matwale to his wife, far more romantically than any hero ever could to his heroine.”

The documentary on Pankaj Mullick, who was presented the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1972, is remembered by cineastes as a definitive portrait of the pioneering musician’s life and times. Paranjpye had used his song Aayee bahaar on the footage showing the legend receiving the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.

Sai Paranpye

Sai Paranjpye

The documentary had also scooped interviews with composer Raichand Boral and singer-composer Hemant Kumar, who were not on talking terms with Pankaj Mullick at the time. Hemantada had sung a few verses from the maestro’s repertoire,” Paranjpye recalls.

Of Pankaj Mullick’s songs in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Telugu, there are an abundant number of unforgettables. To name just a few of the Hindi songs, there are Chale pawan ki chaal , Guzar gaye woh zamaane, Yeh raatein yeh mausam, Jeevan naiyya behati jaaye, and yesteryear’s  radio favourite Piya milan ko jaana.

So, what happened to the documentary? Paranjpye states stoically, “It has probably disintegrated due to neglect.”

Once a documentary commissioned by Doordarshan, or Films Division for that matter, is completed and handed over, it goes out of the grasp of its creator. And that’s where the rub lies. Who is to be addressed for a documentary’s survival? If, at all, a print by some sleight of luck, was given to the National Film Archive of Pune, can it be retrieved and restored?

Silly questions perhaps. Because, restoration and preservation of priceless documentaries, is hardly a priority with government-appointed officials in charge of the related departments of film culture. Moreover, the task is so enormous, that the very thought of paying some heed to national film heritage, is daunting.

Ask Paranjpye, if she has approached Doordarshan to locate the Pankaj Mallick documentary and she responds frostily, “Do you think it would be of any use?”

A similar case in point. Veteran Shyam Benegal states that a print of  his mega-serial Yatra, on the Indian railways, no longer survives. He had stored a print in his Mumbai office at Tardeo for years but was heartbroken when it caught fungus beyond repair. He regrets, “Although I’d taken care to keep a print for myself, it’s damaged beyond repair.”


Shyam Benegal

Since documentaries and TV series, till the new millennium, weren’t shot on the digital format, but on celluloid, chances of their survival are bleak.

On informing Benegal, that episodes of Yatra (1986-‘87) are accessible on Youtube, he is surprised. These have been uploaded in fact by ‘Wdp4’, a term associated with diesel-electric locomotive engines.

“This is news to me,” he laughs, vastly amused. “The serial was made for Doordarshan and the Indian Railways. So I can’t say who has uploaded it. All, I know is that the negative print of Yatra is lost to me. I wish someone would clarify how it has been uploaded – then perhaps I would be sure that Yatra still exists.”

Follow Khalid Mohamed at @Jhajhajha on Twitter

Content Copyright: The responsibility and the sole ownership of the content is of the author who has contributed the content to this blog as a friendly gesture. Please don’t copy-paste matter from this blog. To contact the writer, please visit his author page HERE. 

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