Who Is PK Nair?

P K Nair

We all have that one small box or something hidden in our closet in which we keep things very dear to us. Those preserved things could be anything from like a pen or a mere paper. One man, P K Nair, has such habit too. He collects everything from movie tickets to weighing-machine coupons that have photos of film actors with a trivia about them. He loves everything that is in any way related to cinema. This habit of him plus his undying passion for cinema led him to found National Film Archive of India (NFAI, Pune) – his closet where he preserves films. Any film which was ever made in India or in the world, he wishes to have it archived there. But, warn you, this closet of his opens to only those who love cinema, live cinema, dream cinema!

It should not be tough for the Torrent generation people to understand the need for archiving films; but probably they have no idea about the effort that goes in doing that. Nair travelled distances across countries to gather negatives of films which sometimes he would get only in bits and pieces. Like when he once visited Father of Indian Cinema Dadasaheb Phalke’s home in Nasik to find 1919 film Kaliya Mardan in the same form. He joined those “bits and pieces” of the film reading the accounts on it written by Phalke in his diary that he recovered along with the film at his home. At the moment in NFAI, Kaliya Mardan is the only complete film of Phalke preserved.

Nair’s painstaking effort is not only restricted in form of restoration and preservation of films. He also rescued them, literally, from being boiled down to get silver extracted from it. That’s what happened to 1700 odd silent films ever made in India in those historic times of early cinema, of which only 9 or 10 could be saved. Add to the horror, we have also lost the first-ever talkie film made in our country, Alam Ara (1931) by Ardeshir Irani, to the same evil business of extracting silver from cellulose reels. Nair deeply regrets it. It’s heart-aching to learn that.

What’s heartening to see is, in one scene, ordinary people like a vegetable vendor and a retired school peon from a village in interiors of Karnataka talk about films like Bicycle Thieves, Rashomon and other such iconic world cinema. Thanks to Mr. P K Nair who connected the rural India to the likes of Di Sica and Kurosawa.

Celluloid Man documents Nair Saab’s professional to personal life by interspersing interviews from famous FTII graduate actors, directors and technicians to his family members to himself, showing us the epitome of passion… passion for cinema. There’s more I can write about Nair Saab and this documentary feature about him. There’s more, in fact, we could do to this lesser known hero of Indian Cinema. But the least we can do is watch this film. And, believe me, 100 years of Indian Cinema couldn’t get a better celebration than this film releasing in theaters.

As, at one point in film, legendary poet Gulzar puts, “Dadasaheb Phalke was perhaps the beginner, but Nair collected him and made him into history.” Shivendra Singh Dungarpur with Celluloid Man perhaps did the same with P K Nair.

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