Where is the screen?’ PK Nair wanted to know when he woke up in bed in the ICU a few days before his death. “Daddy didn’t realise it was a hospital, he thought he was in a film screening and the soup we were feeding him was in between a break,” says Bikash Nair (42), the archivist’s younger son.
Such was Nair’s dedication to cinema that, even in his failing health, he refused to move away from his rented apartment close to NFAI and live with Bikash further away in town. “He would go for screenings and workshops at NFAI even in failing health. After a heart attack in November, however, he agreed to move to Trivandrum with my sister Bina in March,” says elder son Biju (44), also an IT engineer.
Their father was a workaholic, they say. “I remember he would come home from office only for meals. After dinner, we would be back at NFAI and sit in the theatre to watch a film until midnight. That’s when mother would come and reprimand both of us,” says Bikash, who calls himself his father’s unofficial assistant. He was tasked with cutting articles and filing these from newspapers and journals. It wasn’t only at NFAI that Nair helped preserve films. His houses, in Pune and Trivandrum, contain innumerable reels that he went to a great lengths to acquire. “Once he sneaked out of home around 4.30 am to go to Nashik, near Mumbai, because a rare reel had become available. Since there was no transport, he sat in a taxi that was transporting newspapers,” recalls Bikash.
In 1987, PK was in ICU with diabetes but wasn’t about to let that keep him from his passion. He found a doctor who liked films. “He got himself discharged in the morning for a meeting in Delhi and came back to the ICU in the evening,” says Biju.
The archivist suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems but his main concern was a loss of vision. “We were surprised when he started travelling to Kerala for Ayurvedic eye treatment because he couldn’t read the sub-titles,” adds Biju.
While he admits that Nair’s commitment to cinema ate into family time, Biju says this was a part of life. “We felt privileged for it. I know, for fact, that the way we are grieving today, every single film reel in NFAI is weeping. It has lost its guardian,” says Biju.
One day, as a student at FTIII, I asked PK Nair to give me some work for which he could pay me. That’s how I landed a job cleaning film reels. After projection, all films are cleaned with chemicals. He would pay me Rs 25 to Rs 30 per film. In the three years at FTII, I must have cleaned nearly 80 films.
Jahnu Barua, National Award winning filmmaker
When I met him nearly 10 days ago, PK Nair was ailing but the first question he asked was: ‘What is happening at NFAI?’ Also, he possessed a personal collection that included seemingly unimportant things such as film handbills, that he had collected when he was
KS Sasidharan, Former Director, NFAI