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A reel-life hero

Celluloid man
documentary
director: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur
rating ****

His contribution to cinema is extraordinary, to say the least. But despite all this, you may never have heard of him. And that’s precisely what makes this particular documentary a welcome step towards recognising a personality like PK Nair.

The documentary, appropriately titled Celluloid Man, released on May 3, exactly 100 years after India’s first feature film Raja Harishchandra was released.

Ironically, the centennial celebration of Indian cinema would be incomplete — if not misguided — without Nair’s rather selfless attempts at preserving Dadasaheb Phalke’s huge body of work. Thanks to this documentary by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, you learn that Nair went beyond mere curation at the NFAI. An unparalleled passion for films armed with his encyclopaedic outlook leaves us thoroughly impressed as he walks us through dilapidated buildings and renovated localities.

Interspersed with scenes from movies belonging to the silent era as well as the talkies, several cinematic stalwarts bear testimony to Nair’s dedication to cinema. Everyone from Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan to Krzysztof Zanussi to Gulzar, Naseeruddin Shah, Mrinal Sen, Jahnu Barua, Girish Kasaravalli, Shabana Azmi, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Jaya Bachchan have something heartening to share about the man in question.

In the world of torrents, it’s much easier to relate to someone who was adamant on saving movie reels for posterity. Even though Celluloid Man seems entirely about him, it’s more about a heritage he was trying to save from destruction. The film could have been a bit more balanced if it could have engaged Nair’s detractors as well, as he had quite a few of them. Overall, he comes across as a lone warrior but as the film progresses, new characters spring up with
the hero more than willing to give credit to many of them.

For someone who did so much to preserve a piece of our history, this documentary effectively does its bit in preserving his legacy. 

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