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A Fascinating 30 Minutes Film On Stamps That’s Nothing Like A Boring History Lesson

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By Rajkanya Mahapatra for Youth Ki Awaaz

Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival And Forum 2016 that is going on in Delhi (13th – 20th September), Youth Ki Awaaz will be featuring reviews of films and interviews with directors. This year’s theme is “Reflections and Ruminations.” Scroll down for schedule details.

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Anirban Dutta’s “The Tale Of Stamps” is a film about a lot of things. It is about the history of the postal system in India; it is about the beauty and legacy of stamps.

The film is everything but a boring history lesson. Personal accounts from different scholars, philatelists (a person who studies or collects postage stamps) almost bring the stamps to life.

You would spot the Penny Black, the stamps issued right after the Independence, the colourful stamp issues that are released now. All of it is just beautiful.

To top that, for someone like me, who’s perennially homesick , the part of the movie that focuses on the history of stamps and the postal services in Bengal and Bangla, transports me back to the streets of Kolkata, or that one time I visited the Sunderbans.

In about half an hour, you’ll be taken for a pleasant ride and by the end of it, not only will you have learned immensely, you will have, as a millennial, at least once, regret the very minimum interaction that we’ve had with this amazing institution.

There’s also a love story in there. All the more reason for you to watch it.

I had the chance to catch Mr. Dutta over the phone for a short interview and here’s how it went.

Q1 – What got you thinking about stamps in the first place? Do you have a personal connection with stamps or was it something you thought would be an interesting thing to make a film on?

When I was a kid, we were living in Andaman and Nicobar and at the time it was a ritual in our family to a write a letter to my grandmother, every Saturday. All of us had to write a letter and many a times it would be an inland letter or sometimes an envelope. I used to go with my father to the post office and we would buy stamps.

I was about 5-6 years at the time when I first came across stamps. It was quite a fascinating thing, I used to choose which colors to buy and all of that. That’s how I got interested in stamps in early childhood. This went on for many years as my father travelled, till the time, I think, I was about 17 years old, I used to regularly write to my grandmother.

Q2 – You have chosen to use anecdotes in a very specific way in the film. The anecdotes help the stamps in the story move through time. Was it a conscious decision to use anecdotes from the start or was it something you discovered in the process of filming?

When I started researching, I found that postal history and history of stamps is very vast.

Now the point is, how do you tell a story in half an hour? It can’t really be a chronological story because that kind of a story will take a lot of time and it might be very repetitive. So, out of the research we took out certain highlights,certain anecdotes and stories that seemed to be more fascinating than the others.

There are multiple stories, but these are the ones we felt could be put together in the film. In a way, that it’s an anecdotal journey through the history of stamps.

Q.3 – What do you think “The Tale Of Stamps” has to offer to 18 year olds, who probably have never written a letter or visited a post office in their lives?

Yes. That’s exactly why the film was made. My kids are 12 and 9 years old who have never written a letter. At the most, my son has an email ID, where he writes a few lines to me. The point is that, so this is something that the younger people of my child’s generation or slightly older haven’t really had an interface of exchange of communication through letters and the whole idea of stamps and collecting stamps. In a way, it was a bit nostalgic but at the same time it was looking back at a certain era.

I would think that anybody who’s younger would be quite fascinated by the fact that there were times, people used to send letters like this. The letters would go from here (India) to England and people wouldn’t pay for it. It’s a story from a different era.

The way that history fascinates people, the same way, I think, this film would encourage people to know about another time. The idea is that, a half an hour long film cannot be an authentic history. The film isn’t a definitive piece. It creates a certain kind of inquisitiveness to get people to research more, look at history etc etc.

Q.4 – It got me wondering. From all the research you might have had to put in, what do you have to say about the current state of Philately in India?

Philately has its own life, in the sense that one part of Philately is amateur Philately and the other is called professional Philately. Professional Philately will go on till the time people collect and sell stamps, like any object of art.

Philately, in that commercial sense, is very vibrant but amateur Philately, as I saw in my childhood, that fascination is no more there among the younger generation.

Q.5- How adventurous was the research process? You went far and deep in Bengal. Why the special emphasis on the State? Is it because stamps find a special place in the culture in Bengal or was it a choice you made?

Basically what we found, when we started researching that certain parts of the Indian Postal history pre-Independence concentrated in Bombay and Calcutta Presidency – two of the most important places from where the British operated. From the Bombay Presidency, they would have operations upto Eden. From Calcutta, they had operations into the Far East. So in that way, my research automatically got concentrated in these two places.

Then of course, there was this whole journey of finding philatelists. Philatelists, by nature can also be very secretive people. They need to be able to trust you, so that they can show you their collection. That was a long journey of developing trust and to say that, “I’m not here for a commercial purpose.” Then they were very helpful.

Q.6 – The documentary was a great mix of documenting the history of postage stamps and also very carefully weaving it into a culture that’s familiar. What gave which the agency?

The thing is, after a certain point, how many stamps can you possibly show? You need to place it (stamps) within a context and the context is also, that these stamps are still used and letters still travel.

There’s this whole notion that post offices are dead. It is actually not true at all. You go to any post office today. The post offices are loaded with mail and if you, see one of the shots in the movie, you’ll see that there are stacked shelves.

What has basically stopped is, letters. We must understand that letters were never the revenue collecting resource for the postal department. It was always the parcels, packages, money orders etc. Of course now they have e-money orders now. Also, all the e-commerce that we see today, all the Jabongs and Amazons, many of them use the postal service.

Another important thing about post offices is that it has always been a kind of a welfare organisation, like the railway. What happens is, through the post office, lots of people from the far flung parts of India, actually got their bank accounts. Post Offices in India, I think, after SBI, has the largest number of savings bank account. A lot of the welfare that the government does, is disseminated through post offices. It is an integral part of our ‘development’ delivering mechanism.

 

Catch Anirban Dutta’s film “The Tale Of  Stamps” at 3pm on 20th September at India International Centre. To see the full Open Frames Festival programme, click here.

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