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Dialogues From The Bygone Era: NFAI’s Oral History Project released on Phalke’s birth anniversary

Apart from Subbulakshmi’s three hour and forty-five minutes audio interview, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) published about 8000 minutes of veteran film artists from the Indian film industry, in continuum of the 150th birth anniversary of Father of Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke.

At her residence in Mylapore, Madras in the year 1984, S.D. Subb-ulakshmi, in an interview said that when she was a child, her parents discouraged her desire in theatre and plays. “When I was in class 8, they put me in a school in Tirunelv-eli, Manthiramurthy High school…

When I was studying there, Kanni-ayya company was performing their plays. wanted to pursue theatre acting again…S G Kittappa played female roles in the play. He would play Krishna and Mohini. C V V Panthulu was also there. Watching that play re-kindled my interest in theatre,” she said.

Apart from Subbulakshmi’s three hour and forty-five minutes audio interview, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) published about 8000 minutes of veteran film artists from the Indian film industry, in continuum of the 150th birth anniversary of Father of Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke. The 53 interviews with audio recordings of film artists conducted in five languages- Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, English and Bengali, recorded mostly in the 1980s as part of the Oral History Project of

NFAI was uploaded on the official website on Friday.

“The Oral History Project is a part of our larger NFAI research programme. It is an audio history project which started in late 70s and early 80s with an idea where artists through these interviews, talk about their background, how they came into the industry, the roles or jobs they did, how industry evolved in front of their eyes, memorable roles, directors and studios they worked with,” said Prakash Magdum, Director NFAI.

He said that many of the artists in the interviews are from the era of silent films who later also worked in the talkies and is a documentation of a macro view of the overall film industry in India. “Oral history is an important tool for any history and I would say it is more for cinema, as tools for early Indian cinema are not much available today. These are stories from the people themselves from the bygone era, hence it holds a rich documentation value,”

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The artists include prominent names like J. B. H. Wadia, Akkineni Nageshwar Rao, Vijay Bhatt, Nilu Phule, Sharad Talwalkar, Shobha Sen, Surykant Mandhare, Soumitra Chatterjee to name a few. “There are seven or eight interviews of people, including that of Haribhau Lonare and Marathi comedy actor Vasant Shinde, who have worked with Dadasaheb Phalke. These are the people who had no background in cinema and had joined Hindustan Cinema Films Company. The tales are of utmost importance as while Phalke is much written about, they are the people who were in direct association with Phalke, how it was to work with, his humane side and his craft of filmmaking. So I would say that this is the highlight of the collection of oral interviews and hence, by releasing it online is a tribute to the man,” said Magdum.

The interviews were taken by film researchers, film scholars or film historians in the audio format as the bygone technology was of the cassettes. Magdum said that the work began a little before the lockdown last year to digitise the interviews. “These interviews were taken on audio cassettes. We had to digitise them and also enhance the sound, as the equipment used back then was not very advanced. In most cases one microphone was used between the interviewer and interviewee, with hints of ambience sound also caught on the microphone. Some of the words are feeble so one has to listen carefully to catch the words. We took the help of the Sound Department of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) to tweak the quality of the sound as much as possible,” he said.

Magdum also lauded the interviewers’ skills to get them to talk as several artists were at a stage with minimal recall memory. ” The interviews range in durations from half an hour to nine hours. We also had to translate and transcribe the interviews in English as many of them are in respective vernacular languages. We have also added old photographs and written context so that whosoever has a keen interest in Indian cinema across the world can benefit from it,” he said.

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