Classic Bengali film in danger of extinction

The only existing copy of actor/writer/director P.C. Barua’s 1935 film Devdas, the second adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s classic novella, is currently rotting in the Bangladesh Film Archives, its soundtrack erased and footage severely damaged. The film is “preserved” among more than 2500 films at the archives, which is actually a rented house where the films are kept in rusted tin cans held together by scotch tape, are subject to heat of around 26 degrees Celsius (the standard is 12 degrees or less), and are handled by employees with their bare hands. The Daily Star reports:

“The print was in deplorable condition and even while giving full attention from only a few yards, the dialogues between Parbati and her husband were very difficult to follow”

“The sound has become inaudible and the film has become obscure. The projectionists struggled to raise the volume to almost no effect, still the dialogues could not be clearly heard”

“Mismanagement, preservers’ apathy to carrying out duties, the absence of training, shortage of manpower, inadequate budget, and the absence of a permanent building have contributed over the years to bring the (Archives) to this sorry state”

Devdas, a classic Bengali novella published in 1917,  is a tragic love story in the vein of Romeo & Juliet. It tells the story of a young man who returns home after completing his education, only to have his family step in between himself and the love of his life.

The story was brought to life more than ten times on film (including three times by Barua, in different languages), and most recently in 2002 by acclaimed director Sanjay Leela Bhansali.