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Wednesday, Oct 27, 2021
Outlook.com

After The Credits Roll

A paean to the man who saved Indian cinema

After The Credits Roll
After The Credits Roll
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

In 1969, a government officer at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), Pune, took a late night “paper taxi” carrying the early edition of the Kesari newspaper to Nashik. He had to collect some rare nitrate films from Prabhakar Phalke whose late father, Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, had made India’s first motion picture, Raja Harishchandra. The officer returned the same day with the two surviving reels—the first and the last—of that historic film and also disparate fragments of another Phalke film, Kaliya Mardan, which he later meticulously sorted into the right order on the basis of the handwritten notes left behind by the filmmaker. Had it not been for the officer, there would have been little of Phalke—and in turn, Indian film history—for our viewing pleasure.

In the 100th year of Indian cinema, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s fascinating documentary Celluloid Man, which had its India premiere at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival and plays next at the International Film Festival of India in Goa, pays a much deserved and long overdue tribute to that unassuming government official: P.K. Nair, the NFAI’s founder director. A man who, in a three-decade tenure at the archives, passionately collected and painstakingly preserved films from across India and the world: from S.S. Vasan’s Chandralekha to Jean Renoir’s River. He managed to salvage nine silent films from the 1,700-odd made in India at a time when hard-up producers were known to have sold off their own films as scrap or extracted the silver out of them to raise money.

Dungarpur had been Nair’s student at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Celluloid Man is a tribute to his teacher and also, as he puts it, about “our heritage and...

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