Aficionados of Marathi cinema and fans of iconic Marathi litterateur P.L. Deshpande — affectionately known as ‘Pu La’ — have news to cheer about as the city-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI) has acquired rare footage from a ‘lost’ Marathi film classic of the 1940s which starred Deshpande.The film, Vande Mataram (1948) directed by Ram Gabale, is a much sought-after memorabilia item high on the lists of Marathi film collectors and devotees of Pu La’s work.It marked the first time that the multi-faceted Deshpande, who starred alongside his wife Sunita, played the lead role following minor appearances in earlier films, Kuber (1947) and Bhagyaresha (1948).“The 35-minute footage that we have received has rekindled hopes that the complete film may yet be discovered. The footage, in form of a VHS tape, was given to us by Dinesh Thakur (Sunita Deshpande’s nephew) and film historian Satish Jakatdar along with U-matic tapes which contain previously unseen footage of Pu La playing the harmonium,” said Prakash Magdum, Director, NFAI.He informed that while the sound quality was all right, there was dire need to enhance the picture quality of the footage.Vande Mataram, made immediately after Independence but set during the freedom struggle, was a heady confluence of the most formidable talents to grace Marathi cinema during its heyday in the late 1940s. The film, shot in Kolhapur, was written by yet another legendary Marathi literary figure, the famed poet-writer Gajanan Digambar Madgulkar who also provided the lyrics, while the music was composed by renowned singer Sudhir Phadke.It was edited by Raja Thakur (who later became a director in his own right), helmed by the talented Mr. Gabale, a Prabhat Studios regular, and was produced by the maverick P.R. Bhide.The film, with its memorable music and songs, focuses on the patriotism of ordinary folks and is laced with gentle humour.“VandeMataram is indeed remarkable for the dazzling array of talent associated with it as Madgulkar, Pu La and Phadke constituted the veritable trinity of Marathi cinema during its golden age in the late 1940s and 50s. Its ‘lost film’ status has lent it a certain aura. The film was very dear to its composer, Sudhir Phadke, who had in fact visited Mr. Thakur’s residence in Mumbai following Pu La’s death in 2000 to search if the latter had preserved it in his collection,” said Mr. Magdum, speaking to The Hindu.He said that the footage featured a couple of songs and has Pu La singing a powada (ballad).“In particular, one song from this film, Ved Mantrahun Vandya, became a huge hit and endures in its popularity even till this day,” said Mr. Magdum.He further said that the acquisition was doubly delightful as by a happy coincidence this year happens to be the birth centenary of P.L. Deshpande, G.D. Madgulkar and Sudhir Phadke. Incidentally 2018 was the birth centenary of the film’s producer, P.R. Bhide.“Bhide was an interesting character who dabbled in a number of things including the cinema. Besides Vande Mataram, the other notable film he produced was Lalat (1947) where his auteurist tendencies were in full display in his highly innovative experiment of using 16 mm film to record sound instead of film,” Mr. Magdum said, remarking that Bhide later exited cinema to become a spiritual godman, establishing the Manashakti Center in Lonavla and assuming the name of ‘Swami Vijnananand’.Of the other memorabilia acquired by the NFAI, one of the two hour-long U-matic cassettes showcase the considerable Harmonium skills of the versatile Mr. Deshpande and were recorded sometime in Mumbai in the 1980s.The other cassette has his inimitable recitation of some of his beloved characters from his literary ouvre.In December 2015, the NFAI had received another rare ‘Pu La’ memorabilia in the form of Deshpande’s original handwritten script of the enduring 1953 Marathi classic Gulacha Ganpati which was later digitized by them.