Late Malayalam filmmaker G. Aravindan’s 1979 classic Kummatty will be restored as part of a collaboration between The Film Foundation’s (TFF) World Cinema Project, Film Heritage Foundation and Cineteca di Bologna. The film will be restored at the L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna, Italy and will have its world restoration premiere at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in late July.
Created in 1990 by Martin Scorsese, TFF is dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history. TFF’s World Cinema Project, created in 2007, has restored 44 films from 26 different countries, representing the rich diversity of world cinema. Film Heritage Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur in 2014. It is dedicated to supporting the conservation, preservation, and restoration of the moving image.
“I’m thrilled to be working with Shivendra Singh Dungarpur once again to preserve and restore director G. Aravindan’s extraordinary film, Kummatty,” Scorsese said. “Aravindan was a visionary director and Kummatty is considered among his greatest work. The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project will share this film with the wider audience it deserves, making it a true cinematic discovery. Thanks to Olivia Harrison and her Material World Foundation for making this restoration possible.”
“Ever since I first worked with The Film Foundation on the restoration of Uday Shankar’s
Kalpana (1948) in 2012, I have seen how beautifully and respectfully they have been restoring films from around the world and giving these films a new life,” said Shivendra
Singh. He added: “Every time I watch a beautifully restored film, I think of so many landmark films of Indian cinema that are crying out to be preserved, restored and showcased in their original beauty once again to the public to be appreciated. Aravindan’s films have been on the top of the list not just because he is a master, but one who I feel has not gotten the recognition he deserves and whose films sadly are not in circulation. It broke my heart when I learned that all the original camera negatives of his films are lost and all we have are prints, not in the best condition.”
Speaking about the process, Singh said: “I was delighted when The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project agreed to restore Kummatty. I travelled to Kollam in Kerala to meet K. Ravindranathan Nair of General Pictures, the producer of five of Aravindan’s films including Kummatty. He very graciously agreed to give permission for the restoration and for us to access the prints from the NFAI. The NFAI gave us both prints for the lab to check the elements. Fortunately, one of the prints did not contain subtitles.”
Singh described Kummatty as a film that combines poetry, landscape, nature and folk tale through stunning visuals and an unbelievable use of music and sound design. He said: “I regard Aravindan as one of the most poetic filmmakers in the world. He is a poet who writes in the language of cinema and silence. Watching his films is like a meditative experience. I am honoured to be a part of this project and we hope to restore his acclaimed film ‘Thampu’ in the near future.”
Cecilia Cenciarelli of Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna said: “Restoring Kummatty reminded us once again of the core mission that The Film Foundation and Cineteca di Bologna embrace through the World Cinema Project; to give a new life to masterpieces, shed a light on obscure cinematic gems, and expand the canon of world cinema in multiple directions.”
Only two 35mm prints (one with photographed English subtitles) of Kummatty survive. The two copies were worn-out, very dirty and deeply scratched, one containing a consistent vertical green line on the right-hand side of the image, which required painstaking frame-by-frame work by team to remove.
The film’s natural environment, which could be considered one of the main characters of the film, was lit by master cinematographer Shaji N. Karun, Cenciarelli said, and had completely lost its rich palette that illuminated the skies, grass, foliage and fields, becoming instead a homogeneous magenta. “Thanks to Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory was able to be in contact with G. Aravindan’s son, Ramu Aravindan, and Shaji N. Karun who helped recapture, as much as possible, the original aesthetics as well as the magical dimensions of the film.”
Kummatty tells the story of a Pied Piper-like character of Malabar folklore. He casts a spell and turns children into animals. One boy, Chindan, is transformed into a dog, but misses the moment when the other children are turned back to human form and 4has to wait a year for Kummatty to reverse the spell. Chindan’s life as a dog and his return to a human state is a journey through which he realises that life is a gift and freedom is precious. Kummatty won the Kerala State Film Award for the Best Children’s Film in 1979.