GANGTOK: After a wait of 40 years, Satyajit Ray’s only work never to have been officially premiered, his documentary film, ‘Sikkim’, is now finally ready for its world premiere; the date aptly set for 04 April, coinciding with the birth anniversary of the late Chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal, who had produced the film in 1971. The documentary film will premiere at Vajra cinema hall.
The film is being presented by the Art and Culture Trust [ACT] of Sikkim, which holds the rights to the film, and has worked for many years now to restore the original prints of this, thus far lost work.
Although the film has been screened at some film festivals, the 04 April event will be the official world premiere since all previous screenings have been unauthorized. Also, ACT of Sikkim is the only organization with the complete restored print in its possession, the previous screenings, it is informed, were incomplete.
The premiere show, ACT members informed today, will also be attended by the Governor, Balmiki Prasad Singh, and the screening is being supported by the Department of Information & Public Relations.
Addressing a press conference this evening, the ACT of Sikkim managing trustee, Ugyen Chopel, trustee Karma Takapa and secretary, Atul Kaura, informed that premiere is also scheduled to be attended by actor-director, Tinu Anand, who, they inform, assisted the maestro in the film. Also scheduled to attend the world premiere is cinematographer of the film, Soumendu Roy. Both will also be addressing the premiere show, sharing their memories of the filmmaking stint in 1971.
An audiovisual presentation on the restoration process prepared by Josef Lidner from the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Science will also be screened on the occasion, detailing the journey of the documentary film’s restoration.
The best part of the 57-minute long documentary film is it has English commentary in Satyajit Ray’s own voice, who has not only done the direction but also composed the background score.
Mr Chopel shared that the Trust believes that through this film, the late Chogyal had wanted to showcase the sovereign kingdom of Sikkim to the world in the best and authentic light which is why he invited the internationally acclaimed filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, to make the film.
The film was shots by Ray’s cinematographer, Soumendu Roy and Ray was assisted by the Mumbai-based actor and director, Tinu Anand.
It was informed that while the film was completed on time, apart from a few private screenings, it was never received a theatrical release, and in 1973, Sikkim went through a political turmoil and the film remained unseen and it was also presumed to be banned.
It was also informed today that it was only when Ray was given a lifetime achievement Oscar, and the Academy held a retrospective festival for his works that it was realized that “Sikkim” was the only film which could not be screened; its prints could not be traced. “Sikkim”, thus came to be known as ‘the lost film’.
A lot of curiosity was generated but nobody seemed to have a print and worst still, the negatives of the film had gone missing.
In the year 2002, Chogyal Wangchuk Namgyal donated a huge repository of material from Palace archives, which included documents, letters, slides, photographs and films.
In that set was discovered a 35 mm print of Ray’s “Sikkim”, but in a very dilapidated condition.
The print was taken to Mumbai to assess the damage and it was found that the colour had completely faded away and the soundtrack was in poor condition.
The Trust got in touch with the Ray Society, through which the Trust was able to contact the archives at the Academy Motion Pictures Arts and Science, California.
The Chief Preservation Officer of the Academy Film Archives, Josef Lidner, took on the painstaking job of personally restoring the film. The process was expensive and took eight years.
Incidentally, two more prints were eventually found, one at the Brown University in the USA and the other with a collector in London.
Prof Dilip Basu, Founding Director of the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Centre, University of California, USA, did all the liaisioning for the Art and Culture Trust with the Academy.
The film made its journey back home and the Trust received the 35 mm celluloid print on the 11 September last year, it is informed
However, they shared, sometime in November last year, the Trust was shocked to find “Sikkim” featured in the Kolkata International Film Festival. The film was again drawn into a controversy as the festival organizers had not taken permission to screen the film and this was finally settled with the Trust getting a stay order on the screening.
The Trust members informed today that they met the Governor to invite him for the premiere show and he has shown “great enthusiasm and eagerness” on the film.
The Trust has also expressed its gratitude towards the Chief Minister and to the IPR Department for their support to the event.
The Trust has invited the entire royal family along with the senior citizens who lived in the period captured in the documentary film, the legislative members and heads of departments among others.
The Trust has also kept around 450 seats exclusively for students to show them the period in which the film was made and to introduce them to the dignity and grace of the Chogyal. Limited tickets are also available for interested people, it was informed.
Mr Chopel added that after seeing the response to the premiere show, the Trust would consider arranging regular shows in cinema halls.
The film has also been invited to the Munich Film Museum for a screening on 04 May this year.
He also shared that the Trust also has in its possession many films shot by the Chogyal himself on different occasions. These are also in the good condition and a DVD set is planned for release as part of the heritage of Sikkim.
“We believe that the late Chogyal’s purpose to showcase Sikkim to the rest of the world will finally become possible after 40 years and the release of the film will help in creating more awareness and generate interest and curiosity on Sikkim,” the Trust members share.