Old documentary on Mahatma Gandhi now in digital format

A documentary on Mahatma Gandhi containing "rarest of the rare" video footages, including Bapu's first interview to a foreign journalist, has been digitised and will be availaible for public viewing soon.

Old documentary on Mahatma Gandhi now in digital format

New Delhi: A documentary on Mahatma Gandhi containing "rarest of the rare" video footages, including Bapu's first interview to a foreign journalist, has been digitised and will be availaible for public viewing soon.

'Mahatma Gandhi - 20th Century Prophet', an 1941 documentary made by travelogue writer and journalist A K Chettiar has been digitised with the help of the National Gandhi Museum here.

The Museum plans to screen the 81-minute long film across various media platforms.

"The film first screened on August 15 1947 reportedly went "untraceable" in 1959," says A Annamalai, Director National Gandhi Museum.

The film, however was available in its original 15-MM format at a few places but could not be screened often because technical specifications had became outdated says Annamalai.

Chettiar had travelled more than one lakh kilometres within India and across countries to collect all the video archives and pictures of Gandhi to create the original documentary. The effort took him over three years.

The documentary was first screened as a film, with due permissions by the Censor Board in 1940 at Chennai's Roxy theatre with voice overs in Tamil. It was later dubbed into Telugu and subsequently in Hindi.

The documentary was also screened on August 15, 1947 in New Delhi which was attended by country's first president Rajendra Prasad.

"Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi too attended the screening as her father and then Prime Minister Nehru could not make it to the event," says Annamalai.

Later, Chettiar got the film dubbed into English also and took it to the US where it was screened at San Francisco on February 10, 1953.

Attended by the then US president Dwight David Eisenhower, and his wife Mamie Geneva Doud the film's screening was also his first public function.

Chettiar made 16-mm films of the documentary, which he then distributed to some museums in 1959.

"With advent of time, there were were updates to projectors and newer specifications like 35 mm and so on. So original copies became redundant and went untraceable," says Annamalai.

The film has now been completely restored, its colour has been corrected, dust and scratches removed and sound improved.

"It now looks like a new film," says the NGM director.

"Moreover the film is now available in 2K resolution - which means the pixel quality is so fine that it could also be played in cinema halls and theatres and can also be broadcast on television," says Annamalai.

Over two lakh rupees were spent in digitisation of the film in Chennai, says Annamalai.

"When I first approached a studio in Delhi, the technicians agreed to work on it and create DVDs and even refused to charge a single penny for Gandhi's cause. But they did not have the technology for digitisation. I also tried my luck in studios in Mumbai and Pune before finaly approaching the Chennai studio," says Annamalai.

The documentary features Gopal Krishna Gokhale's visit to South Africa where Gandhi met his 'political guru'. The photograph shot by H S Pollack in 1912 is claimed to be the oldest availaible footage of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Salt Satyagraha and police atrocities of 1930 are also included in the over an hour-long documentary which carries Gandhi's very first interview with a foreign correspondent

Besides, Gandhi's trip to London during the Round Table Conference, his trips to Italy and Switzerland and the Annual Congress meets among others are shown in Chettiar's documentary.

The film also contains speeches by the first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

With the digitisation work now complete, the NGT says it wishes to publicise this "rarest of the rare" collection and wants to take Gandhi to maximum people through various media.

"We are planning to screen it for the media first. Then we will move to the television platform and approach Doordarshan first and then others channels. If they are interested to broadcast it, we'll be happy," Annamalai said. 

Plans are also on to bring the documentary out in DVD form and distribute it in colleges and schools, he says.

"Digitisation was not really that difficult but reaching more people and spreading Gandhi's message and thoughts is now a challenge. If we succeed in doing that, only then we will believe that something good has been achieved," he says.