Director: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur
Cast: P K Nair,Archivist
IE Rating: ****
This is a tribute to the man who single-handedly has done more to preserve Indian film heritage than anyone else in the country. P K Nair,or Nairsaab as he was known to generations of students at the FTII (Film and Television Institute of India),fell into cinema as a young man. The spell was so intense that he never broke free. He went to Mumbai to become a filmmaker. That didnt work but it paid off in spades in another sphere. He then went off to Pune to fill a position at the FTII,and did not leave till the best film archive in the country had been built,film by film,reel by reel. Celluloid Man is a true labour of love.
Shivendra Singh Dungarpurs beautifully detailed documentary is not just the story of Nair and how he built up the National Film Archive. It is also the story of Indian cinema,and it is wholly appropriate that Celulloid Man releases today (May 3 is the day Raja Harishchandra released,100 years ago). As Dungarpur traces Nairs journey,a parallel track plays on,telling us about the early great studios where pioneers created,with will and determination and vision,an enduring and robust film-making tradition. These were the people who saw the future,who incorporated sound into silence,and began the revolution which was to have such a monumental impact on the lives of countless Indians.
Poignance is the thread that runs through the film. When Nair began collecting,no one (and perhaps he himself) had any idea how essential a job it is. And by all accounts,he was a solitary warrior. Ex FTII-ian Shabana Azmi talks of how she raised the issue in Parliament and it fell on deaf ears. Naseeruddin Shah talks of how Nairsaab introduced him to the joys of world cinema. The sight of Nairsaab,head bent over his notebooks,scribbling notes while a film played,is recounted by generations of FTII students and teachers. Shyam Benegal,Jaya Bachchan,Saeed Mirza,Adoor Gopalakrishnan,Kumar Shahani (such a pleasure to see him,hes been so out of the public eye),all speak of their regard for the man who dedicated his life to preserving cinema.
As a result,Nair got barely any time at home. He spent all his waking hours obsessively watching,meticulously documenting,and collecting films. It was almost like it consumed him. And it shows in the film: one of the most evocative scenes has him walking about the vault where the films are,and his hand unerringly stops at the right one.
Celluloid Man feels a trifle long,but then its arc has necessarily to be long,because it covers so many decades and filmmakers and filmmaking. It is a true labour of love. Give it some of your time.