Colourising classics is a futile exercise

What Colour Is Your Film?

“You can paint my car any colour as long as it is black.” – Henry Ford.

This intermittent urge by some film people to colour their own old films or one they inherited the rights to, what drives them? What makes them decide it is worth the effort?

I saw Dev Anand’s Hum Dono Rangeen, the colourized and restored version last week. However, very soon in to the film, I realised, I was just watching an old, leisurely paced WW2 background family cum romantic film with great music! The feeling of seeing the film seemed the same to me as I had seen it in my teens at a Ganeshotsav Pandal in black and white. I was conscious of the next scene, next song, just about everything, but the only difference was that now I was watching this film in colour, in the luxury of an air-conditioned Red Lounge on a reclining seat and not sitting on a tarpaulin at Forjett Hill Ganesh Pandal! If at all I would have liked to watch any Navketan film in colour, it would be the ultimate musical romance, Tere Ghar Ke Samne. 

Now the question: Why this exercise of colouring an old classic, which was and has always been well received the way it was? Ideally, a film to change into colour would be one with lot of outdoor sequences, vast visuals and crowds. A film like Raj Kapoor’s Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai would be perfect, if for nothing, at least for its last sequence of surrender with the song, ‘Aa ab laut chale…’

So far three Hindi films have been colourized: Mughal- E-Azam, Naya Daur and Hum Dono but, unfortunately, none has been able to set the box office afire! This certainly renders colourisation as a futile exercise; in Dev Anand’s case probably his last hurrah for how else would so many from the industry, young and old alike, would have converged to pay their respects to him as they did at the premiere of his Hum Dono Rangeen?

There had been talk of Arun Dutt, son of late Guru Dutt planning to colourise some of his father’s films. I feel touching classics like Pyaasa and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam for any such purpose would be nothing short of sacrilege! Their very mysticism, which creates an aura around them, mesmerizing a viewer, lies in the fact that they are in black and white. Like reading a book, even as a black and white film unreel a tale on screen, it still leaves a lot to your imagination.

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