Sai Paranjpye’s Rare Gems Go Missing At Doordarshan

Whoever is in charge would have to initiate a treasure hunt to find them, says the film auteur. 

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Entertainment
4 min read


Many of Sai Paranjpye’s films have gone missing from Doordarshan. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

Pre-eminent film auteur Sai Paranjpye is upset – and that’s putting it mildly – with the cavalier attitude of the government-controlled Doordarshan.

Central governments may come and go. The chiefs of the public service broadcaster and a division of Prasar Bharati may change faster than their cars and cabins, but there’s no change in the apathetic attitude towards its bank of masterworks produced for the national channel.

Paranjpye has made iconic films like <i>Sparsh </i>and <i>Chashme Buddoor</i>. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)
Paranjpye has made iconic films like Sparsh and Chashme Buddoor. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)
A clutch of significant documentaries and telefilms by Paranjpye have “gone with the wind”, as she puts it herself. The feisty 80-year-old multi-media personality, who released her autobiography titled Saya in Marathi at book launch ceremonies in Mumbai and Pune last month, had worked as a producer for Doordarshan during the 1970s before she made her first feature film Sparsh (1980).
Paranjpye’s film on the legendary composer-singer Pankaj Mullick has disappeared. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)
Paranjpye’s film on the legendary composer-singer Pankaj Mullick has disappeared. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

It has already been reported that her feature-length documentary on Pankaj Mullick, Bengal’s legendary composer-singer, actor and exponent of Rabindra sangeet, has gone through the cracks.

It’s lost forever. The 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.”
Sai Paranjpye, Filmmaker
A documentary on Captain Lakshmi Sahgal has also gone missing. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)
A documentary on Captain Lakshmi Sahgal has also gone missing. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

There was no follow-up action to the reports. Now, Paranjpye has revealed that her documentary Captain Lakshmi is no longer accessible. It had chronicled the life and times of Lakshmi Sahgal (1914-2012), the revered lawyer and doctor who became a revolutionary activist of the Indian Independence movement. An officer of the Indian National Army, she was designated as the Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Azad Hindi government.

Can you imagine the value of the footage? Her daughter Subhashini Ali was a friend. The documentary is one of my most cherished works. Captain Lakshmi had spoken with exemplary candour and in elaborate detail.
Also missing is Paranjpye’s 11-minute short film The Little Tea Shop – a look at a plucky woman who ran a dhaba on the Delhi-Agra expressway without “ever being intimidated by burly truck drivers”. The short fetched the filmmaker, who went on to be honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2006, her first ever award, the Asian Broadcasting Union Award at the Tehran film festival.
A poster of <i>Sparsh</i>.
A poster of Sparsh.

There are no traces either of her telefilm Raina Beeti Jaaye (featuring Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Sushma Seth), which was adapted into Sparsh. Plus another telefilm, Dhuan Dhuan with newcomers, which was subsequently developed into Chashme Buddoor (1981), is no longer accessible.

When I ask how come? she ripostes:

Silly question that. Obviously, this is out of sheer apathy and carelessness. The lord alone knows where the prints were dumped. They have probably disintegrated out of neglect. The trouble is that no one can be held accountable for such a sorry state of affairs. I am sure many works of great archival value by other filmmakers have also died so to speak.
Once a documentary or a short film commissioned by Doordarshan, or Films Division for that matter, is completed and handed over, it goes out of the grasp of its creator. That’s where the rub lies. If at all, a print, by some sleight of luck, was given to the National Film Archive of Pune, it could be retrieved and restored. This happens rarely if ever.

Restoration and preservation of priceless documentaries, are 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 notion of paying some heed to national film heritage is daunting.

Sai Paranjpye is upset about the apathy of Doordarshan officials. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)
Sai Paranjpye is upset about the apathy of Doordarshan officials. (Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

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

Since documentaries, telefilms and serials, till the new millennium, weren’t shot on the digital format but on celluloid, chances of their survival are bleak.
Still, who knows? By some miracle, my work as well as those of other filmmakers may still be breathing somewhere in Doordarshan’s godowns. For that, whoever is in charge would have to initiate a treasure hunt.
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