We don’t have a culture of documenting our history.
We don’t have a history of making great documentaries.
We don’t have documentaries on our “real heroes”.
And this is why Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s Celluloid Man is such an important film, which stands tall on those three parameters. It’s about a real hero who has documented our cinematic history, and it’s a documentary on his life and passion.
I had missed the screening few times in the past and finally managed to catch it recently. The name is P.K.Nair. His designation sounds even boring – Archivist. Sounds almost clerical – someone who archives stuff. What separates Mister Nair from his designation and the rest is just one thing – passion. And this film does complete justice to that man and his undying passion for cinema.
Chances are you might not have heard his name if you have not been to FTII or not friends with FTII graduates. He is the man responsible for National Film Archive Of India, popularly known as NFAI. Starting literally from scratch, P K Nair built it up slowly – reel by reel, can by can, film by film. No wonder that you ask him about a scene and he can tell you which reel and which can has it. Celluloid Man is his story – how he built NFAI, the way he travelled to various places in search of those rare films which most didn’t care about.
The film runs on two tracks. One traces Nair’s personal story – starting from Nair’s childhood in Kerala to how he wanted to become filmmaker and how he landed up at FTII and started NFAI. Some of the well known faces from FTII recount their younger days at the Institute and talk about Nair saab. And then you realise that his contribution is much more than just being an archivist. It’s about shaping up those young bright minds.
The other one is about building NFAI – this has intersecting anecdotes about collecting those precious films by travelling to remote places, and sometimes even opting for illegal routes for a greater cause. Dungarpur balances it well by scratching the uncomfortable surface too – was it one-upmanship, why NFAI is hostile to Nair now and such.
It feels bit long at the running duration of more than 2 hours (2:24 exactly i think, not sure which version is releasing), and the director’s sudden voice-over feels odd which doesn’t gel well with the film as the rest of it is through Nair saab’s words. But those are just minor issues in this mammoth task of documenting this important part of our cultural history so beautifully. If you are film lover, WATCH IT. If you are not, watch it just to know how to define Passion and Commitment.
The initial portions of the film is shot gorgeously, almost like a dream, feels some kind of daze. And then there’s a heartbreaking surreal sequence of silver being extracted from film reels by those who understand only commerce. The horror! Horror! i shouted in my head.
And this film could not have come at a better time. If there’s one person who needs to be celebrated at the occasion of 100 years of cinema, it’s Nair saab. If nothing else, at least this documentary serves that purpose. Thanks, Shivendra.
– The film is being released by PVR Directors Rare on May 3rd. Don’t Miss this one.
– To know more about the film, click here.
– DearCinema has a detailed review of the film from IFFLA. Click here to read.
(PS – My fav quote is about gym in FTII. I guess that says a lot about our current cinema too)