More than a century since the birth of Bollywood, the first ever Indian film museum is all set to open, in the birthplace of Indian cinema. The country’s highly celebrated movie industry will inaugurate the government-funded National Museum of Indian Cinema, in Mumbai. The museum is situated in a grand 19th century heritage bungalow, in South Mumbai.
It took around seven years to create, with a budget of nearly 20 million US dollars. The picturesque museum categorically illustrates the history of Indian cinema, right from the silent era where there were films in black and white, up to the current, colourful, music-filled movies. The museum is lavishly spread on two whole floors of the building, and it showcases icons of the Indian cinema industry.
Museum curator Amrit Gangar said that it was time such a museum was created, since until this, India had only archives, while adding that the museum would be vibrant and educational due to technology and interactivity.
The articles on display are original artefacts, recordings, film-making equipment, and a variety of memorabilia. Visitors to the museum are able to view clips from the last few remaining silent films like Prem Sanyas (The Light of Asia, 1925) through the assistance of a touch-screen panel. They can also watch, among the moving pictures featured in the museum, Raja Harishchandra. A film based on a story from the Mahabharata, it was the first all-Indian feature to be taken to the silver screen in the year 1913. Aside of watching clips, visitors can listen to songs by K.L Saigal and see one of the highlights, an original painted poster for the 1957 film Mother India.
The idea behind the museum was not just to honour Bollywood, where films were only in Hindi. It was also to celebrate films that have been made in various languages and in diverse regions all across the country. India is said to generate almost 1500 films of all kinds, in a year, and this was duly noted by the museum.
Anil Kumar, head of marketing at the government’s Films Division, reiterated the above when he stated that all the film-making centres of the country find representation in the museum. He also added that the museum was now ready to throw its doors open within the next few weeks, and would take visitors through the journey of Indian cinema, from pre-cinema to the silent era to talkies to songs, the studio system, new wave and digital.
However, the making of the museum met with fundamental roadblocks. For starters, the curators of this project found seemingly vital gaps in Indian cinema heritage.
Importantly missing were many of the early films, which have not been preserved. For example, the last remaining print of Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara, India’s first talkie film in 1931, was destroyed in a fire. Gangar said that they possessed only one percent of the early silent films, and therefore, the museum could not be called one with collections, but one where visitors were informed of the industry, could interact through technology and subsequently educate themselves through the sensory experience.
Another challenge that befell the museum was the procurement of original memorabilia. Its creators stated that though they had not received much in that field, a few collection items were donated and purchased by them. Many items present in the museum had been previously collected and preserved by private collectors.
‘Bollywood’ is a nickname used to denote the Hindi-language film industry which is based essentially in Mumbai. Though much of the process of making a film happens in various film ‘city’ areas as well as in foreign locations, many heritage studios have been overlooked. A few initiatives to revive the celebration of Indian cinema have now begun, with authorities realizing its potential in creating tourism revenue. The National Museum of Indian Cinema is therefore a much-needed initiative.