In this era of digital overload, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that some of India’s greatest cultural treasures are stored in the vaults of the country’s state-owned broadcaster, Doordarshan. However, these vaults are so massive that someone needed to go in there, locate the treasures, restore them to their former glory and then display them to the world at large. The someone is the heroine of this piece in Scroll: ““Your trash is our treasure.” When producer Kamalini Nagarajan Dutt took charge of Doordarshan’s archives in 2002 as its founder-director, that was the in-house motto she coined.
“Trash” pretty much described the state of the tens of thousands of archival spool and cassette tapes dating back to the early 1970s that the national broadcaster had dumped in the damp, underground spaces of its central Delhi premises. Here were recordings of the legends of music, dance, literature and drama, many gathering fungus, some sprouting small mushrooms. A lot of the recordings were beyond salvage, others hung on grimly on the cusp of erasure.”
We have much to thank Ms Dutt for: “Each tape took 3-4 days of work for restoration, first dried in an incubator, then manually scrubbed with a soft cloth. It took five years of backbreaking labour to retrieve, restore, digitise and meta-tag around 2,000 of them till Dutt retired in 2010. About 100 of the saved recordings made their way into the market as CDs and DVDs, while the rest sit in the library.
If we can today watch the grandeur and luminescence of Yamini Krishnamurthy’s early Bharatanatyam or the power of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair’s Kathakali netrabhinaya, rewind to one of Begum Akhtar’s last televised concerts, and marvel at the mellowness of Nikhil Banerjee’s Maluha Kalyan or the syncretism of qawwal Habib Painter’s Bahut Kathin Hai Dagar Panghat Ki, it is because Dutt led a relentless drive with her team of 25 to preserve content that was doomed to sure death because of obsolescence and apathy. And, of course, there was the much-loved Bharat Ek Khoj series….
At 71, and in frail health, it still perturbs her that the work has not been completed. “There are around 2 lakh still waiting to be archived and we must use the new digital medium to make them accessible to younger generations, artistes and researchers.””
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