It took three years to complete the documentary but forty long years to get it screened. The controversial ban on the second and the last documentary made by the legendary Satyajit Ray has finally been lifted. The documentary which was made to showcase and celebrate the beauty of Sikkim however has been lost in the dust and debris of archives. Will it be screened, if at all?
The controversial ban
The last king of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal, on the demand of his American wife Hoope Cooke asked Satyajit Ray to make a documentary on Sikkim. The idea was to present Sikkim as a living paradise on earth through a series of moving shots.
Once the documentary was completed, Satyajit Ray screened it for the king. This unfortunately happened to be the only screening of the documentary film till 2002. However, the King was not impressed with certain scenes where beggars were shown jostling on the leftover food just outside the king’s palace. The king asked Ray to edit out those shots. By the time the editing work was finished, Sikkim was merged with India and the fate of the monarchy sealed forever.
Since the merger was not smooth, rather a controversial one, the government was forced to ban the documentary. The ban was imposed in order to restore peace and tranquility in Sikkim. After that no major efforts were made to get the documentary screened. Like the institution of monarchy in Sikkim, the documentary too became part of its unwanted vestiges.
The lost prints
When Hoope Cooke returned to New York, she took one of the prints along with her. It is believed that she donated the print to an American University. In 1994, when the prints were traced, one was found at the Heffenreffer Museum of Anthropology in Providence, Rhode Island. But by then, the print had all faded and was beyond repair.
In 2003, the second print of the documentary emerged. “Ugyen Chopel, managing trustee of the Art and Cultural Trust of Sikkim,” found the print when all the belongings of the Trust was passed onto the hands of the Trust. They immediately contacted Sandip Ray, member-secretary of the Satyajit Ray Society and the son of Satyajit ray. He got hold of those prints but even that one was completely distorted.
The third print was discovered at the Contemporary Films in London. The documentary was screened in 2002 during the complete Ray Retrospective, which the British Film Institute (BFI) organized in London. During the screening most of the shots were coloured, but then certain parts went completely orange due to distortion.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Archives (AMPASA) obtained the prints from BFI for its restoration. But the photo chemical tests on films were not encouraging. The digital test also could not reinstate much of the colour to the blemished prints. The only viable option left is digitizing every single shot of the documentary. However the cost involved in this process would be enormous. However in wake of the advent of latest technologies, the cost of digitizing the prints is expected to come down.
A four decade journey to get the documentary released is yet to come to an end. Will the world ever see the real beauty of Sikkim through 24 frames per second? Only time will tell.