Film buffs, no matter their age, do not mind watching films of any genre so long as they hold the eye. The generation, born in the late 70s and eighties, would not have known the halcyon times of a Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar or Dev Anand and how they hogged the movie stage. Guru Dutt, one of the most creative directors and sensitive actors of his time, came to be appreciated with deep sensitivity long after he left the scene. Yet the subsequent generation was not truly aware of how great they were. Until their films came to be a regular feature of the TV channels and the emerging generation got to know them better.
Awara was a trend setter in the old genre as much as Jagte Raho, Nau Do Gyarah, Madhumati or Anarkali. Sandwiched between them were quite a few classical thrillers which nearly matched up to the Hollywood thrillers with their edge-of-the seat suspense and characteristically melodious numbers. One would like to watch a Bees Saal Baad, Gumnaam, Dhund or Humraaz even now with the same degree of excitement as was done then. They had an esoteric charm of their own which cannot be replicated in any of the modern thrillers in Hindi or any other language. The latter do have their own momentum and style, catering to a younger audience with distinct tastes.
Till now most in the 50-60 age group wondered whether those prints filmed with outdated cameras would stand the test of time. Forget the fact that most of them can be watched on youtube without a hitch though the prints might appear patchy and unpalatable. But digitization of late has brought them alive and fresh as if from the laundry. Chashme Buddoor, a lively comedy, was no roaring hit in the 80s when it was released any more than Jaane bhi do yaro; yet they are one among the many which have been given a lease of life through digitization. Most of the prints are well preserved, it is said, though some may be beyond recovery.
But an unique recreation of a Tamil epic Karna in digital format with authentic and unfettered sound track was well received across multiplexes recently in Chennai as was Ninaithale Inikkum, a Kamal-Rajani starrer. Incidentally Karna was hardly a success in box office terms when released in the late 60s despite having been made in colour and with chaste fiery dialogues of Sivaji Ganesan. Its rediscovery was more of a success than the original. Unlike Aayirathil Oruvan, an MGR- Jayalalitha starrer, which was a landmark hit in those days because of its theme – freedom from slavery - and scintillating songs. They were on the lips of every student though MGR was no blue-eyed icon for college-going tribe then. Interestingly the digitized ones drew a good segment of the present day youth to the theatres and the distributors did not look at it as a risk.
So archiving in films has become more trustworthy now because of digitization though not all can be restored in finesse. But they have been preserved for posterity. That’s a sobering thought.