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July 21, 2003

History professor lauded for work to preserve Bengali films

By Scott Rappaport

The Cultural Association of Bengal has honored UC Santa Cruz associate professor of history Dilip K. Basu with a Distinguished Service Award for his efforts to preserve classic Bengali films.

Photo: Dilip Basu

Dilip K. Basu has helped orchestrate Satyajit Ray retrospectives in Europe and North America.

The award was presented at the North American Bengali Conference held at the Long Beach Convention Center in Los Angeles.

Basu has worked during the past decade to establish a world-class archives and study center on renowned Indian film director Satyajit Ray at UCSC. He also contributed to the international effort that led to Ray’s Lifetime Achievement Oscar award in 1992.

Basu personally brought the Oscar to Ray in his Calcutta hospital room and filmed his acceptance speech, which was later broadcast at the Academy Awards ceremony. At a banquet after the event, Audrey Hepburn asked him to help restore Ray’s films. Utilizing an initial grant from the Academy, Basu helped establish the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Collection at UCSC and the Ray Society in Calcutta.

Basu organized the restoration and preservation of Ray’s films at the Academy of Motion Picture Archives in Los Angeles. Thirteen of Ray’s 36 films have now been restored at a cost of $1.7 million. Basu also obtained commitments from the Academy, the Packard Humanities Institute, and Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation to help pay the restoration costs of the rest of Ray’s films, at an estimated cost of several million dollars.

Basu has additionally helped orchestrate a number of Ray retrospectives in Europe and North America during the past two years, at venues such as the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art (inaugurated by Martin Scorsese) in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inaugurated by Sharmila Tagore), the British Film Institute (inaugurated by Ravi Shankar) in London, and at the Cinematheque in Toronto (inaugurated by Norman Jewison).

Beginning September 22, all 36 of Ray’s films will be shown for a three-month period at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, California. Complete retrospectives are also planned next year at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Priya and Globe Cinemas in Calcutta, and at the Harvard Film Archive in Boston.

With support from Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood—who has traveled to India twice with him during the past three years—Basu helped establish the South Asian Studies Initiative at UCSC in 1999. The initial focus has been on arts and music with the creation of an endowment in classical North Indian music named after UCSC distinguished adjunct professor and master musician Ali Akbar Khan. To date, donors have pledged more than $2 million for the arts, and the university has made appointments in teaching Hindi and South Asian art history, women’s studies, and politics.

The UC Santa Cruz Satyajit Ray Film and Study Collection now contains 31 of Ray’s 36 films in 35 mm, as well as a collection of 7,000 items about Ray. It has received more than $600,000 in grants from the Ford Foundation, the Academy, the Packard Humanities Institut,e and numerous individual donors.

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