The National Treasure Lost: Cans of Memorable Films Missing from NFAI


PUNE: A virtual storm has started brewing in India shaking even the Bollywood over the mysterious missing of a staggering 51,500 cans of film reels containing 1,112 iconic cinemas including Pather Panchali of Satyajit Ray, Awara of Raj Kapoor and Kaagaz Ke Phool of Guru Dutt from the Pune-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI).


This has also put the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) in the pillory box with Bollywood diva Shabana Azmi requesting Smriti Irani to look into the matter as it certainly is a national loss. “@smritiirani, there r lost treasures and need immediate attn…,” Shabana twittered.

The lost treasure includes footages of Mahatma Gandhi visit to Paris and congregation of the Indian National Congress at Karachi (now is Pakistan). The original footage of the address of ex-US President Richard Nixon of 1969 is also missing. Besides, 401 DVDs and 1,761 books are also missing from the library of NFAI.  

Like a Jasoosi Bollywood Kahani, it has surfaced that over 51,000 cans of film reels and 9,200 prints were not physically present at the NFAI. To top it, 4,922 cans containing 1,112 films which were not listed in the Archive's registers were found present in its vaults. 

Fishy it may seem four reels of “Pather Panchali” and two reels of “Aparajito” (both by Satyajit Ray), one reel of “Meghe Dhaka Tara” (by Rhithwik Ghatak) and two reels of “Mughal-e-Azam” (by K. Asif) were present in the vaults but not recorded in the registers.

This missing or disappearance of celluloid treasure was detected by the Pune-based Cameo Digital Systems Pvt Ltd which was given the responsibility of bar-coding the reels possessed by NFAI in 2012. The issue surfaced following the information obtained by The Indian Express through an RTI Act (Right to Information) application filed by the daily newspaper.

As per the official RTI reply, the NFAI engaged Cameo Digital System Pvt Ltd of Pune in 2010 to put bar-code on every reel. In 2012, Cameo Digital submitted its report along with a “summery of inventory.” The NFAI has a total of 1.3 lakh film reels containing 20,576 titles Indian and foreign films in its vaults.

In the words of Purab Gujar, Director of Cameo Digital, this mess of “missing treasure” came to light when mismatch was found. Purab said while doing the bar-coding exercise and creating data for the Libsys system, we followed the below procedure:

  1. Before commencing the bar-coding, we scanned all the physical film register of NFAI and created a spreadsheet of all the entries.
  2. During bar-coding, we made a separate record of all the films for which bar-code pasting was carried out over the period of nine months. In this record, we mainly captured the accession numbers of each titles, the number of cans and location of the title.
  3. We then compared the two databases to find that a chunk of films listed in the accession registers were not present at the NFAI storage facility.


                                                 Table: I

                                   Film Titles Missing from NFAI


  1. Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Charulata of Satyajit Roy
  2. Mother India of Mehboob Khan
  3. Kaagaz Ke Phool of Guru Dutt
  4. Mera Naam Joker and Awara of Raj Kapoor
  5. Bhuvan Shome of Mrinal Sen


                                          Table: II

Films Present in NFAI’s Vault But Not Recorded in Register

  1. Mughal-e-Azam (2 reels)
  2. Bicycle Thieves, Pakeezah (8 reels)
  3. Aparajito (2 reels)
  4. Pather Panchali (4 reels)
  5. Meghe Dhaka Tara (1)
  6. The Great Dictator (13 reels)
  7. Ardh Satya (14 reels)
  8. Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (10 reels)
  9. Hunterwali (1 reel)


                                               Table: III

                       The Archival Loss of Foreign Films 

  1. Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin
  2. Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurais
  3. Vittoria De Sica's Bicycle Thieves
  4. Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water
  5. Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds
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