Cannes Classics Title ‘The Churning’: Inside the Restoration of 1976 Indian Masterpiece

The restored version of Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s 1976 masterpiece “Manthan” (“The Churning”) is screening at the Cannes Film Festival’s Cannes Classics strand.

Shot by DoP Govind Nihalani in rural Gujarat, western India, the film is produced by 500,000 farmers who contributed towards its making, under the banner Gujarat Milk Co-Op Marketing Federation Ltd. The film is a fictionalized version of the beginnings of the dairy cooperative movement that transformed India from a milk-deficient nation to the world’s largest milk producer, inspired by Dr. Verghese Kurien. It also examines issues like caste, class, gender and economic discrimination. The cast includes Girish Karnad, Smita Patil, Anant Nag, Mohan Agashe and Naseeruddin Shah.

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“The first thing we did was speak to the Gujarat Milk Co-Op Marketing Federation, and we had to make them understand that the film needs to be on 4K, we need to project it back on screen and we need to restore this film because they said it’s on YouTube, you can just watch it anytime you like. And that took a while and then we began the journey,” says archivist and filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, whose Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) led the restoration.

The federation had deposited the original camera negative – which was in poor condition with green mould, scratches, green lines, faded color and flicker problems – with the National Film Archive of India. The sound negative was not available. The film was shot on different stocks – Gevacolor, Eastman and Kodak and the negative was printed onto Orwo. “Govind was very unhappy with the final print because he said what he had shot it never came out,” Dungarpur said.

The sound was previously digitized from a 35 mm print donated to the FHF in 2014 by Benegal.

“The prints were not complete, because first we had to match many, many copies to get what was the original edit of Shyam, identical. And also this film was dubbed. So there were problems of sync. It’s been one and a half years of a crazy journey. Matching the original camera negative with prints and with other materials which we could get from different places,” Dungarpur said.

The film elements were repaired by FHF conservators and the scanning was done at Prasad Lab in Chennai, India. The scanning and digital clean-up was done at Prasad under the supervision of L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna. The grading, sound restoration and mastering was done at the lab in Bologna.

Both Benegal and Nihalani were involved in the restoration. They are ecstatic about the final product. “It is wonderful to see the film come back to life almost like we made it yesterday,” Benegal said.

“Manthan” is the FHF’s third consecutive restoration of an Indian masterpiece at Cannes Classics after “Thamp” in 2022 and “Ishanou” in 2023. The FHF is currently restoring Girish Kasaravalli’s “Ghatashraddha” (1977), which is supported by the Martin Scorsese-founded The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project with funding provided by George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson’s Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation; Ramesh Sippy’s “Sholay” (1975); and Nirad Mahapatra’s “Maya Miriga” (1984).

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