in America, we have the Library of Congress, MoMA, and Martin Scorsese, amongst
others, all working on behalf of film preservation. In India, they had P.K. Nair. Now retired, Nair was an institution unto
himself. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur
profiles the curator, while bemoaning the current state of the archive his
subject tirelessly assembled in Celluloid
screens as part of the Cinema Reflected sidebar
during the 50th New York Film Festival.
a research position at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Nair
initially harbored his own filmmaking ambitions. However, with the formation of the National
Film Archive of India (NFAI), Nair found his destiny as a archivist. For over a quarter of a century, he played a
central role acquiring prints of historically significant Indian films, representing
all of the country’s regional and linguistic traditions, as well as prints of
important works from around the world, for FTII students and faculty to analyze
lead after lead, Nair tracked down many of the only surviving prints, or in
some cases mere fragments, of what were popular and critical successes of their
day, but are now largely lost. Of an
estimated 1,700 films produced during India’s silent era, only nine have been
saved for posterity—entirely through Nair’s efforts.
Celluloid is pointedly critical of
the lack of attention and resources devoted to the preservation and restoration
of classic cinema in contemporary India, which is something of a shock given Bollywood’s
economic vitality and its attendant publicity machine. Yet, according to Celluloid’s interview subjects, after Nair’s retirement, the NFAI
has fallen into a dreadful state of neglect and Nair himself has essentially
been declared persona non grata, for internal political reasons.
is a reasonably intriguing story, particularly for those well versed with classic
Indian cinema traditions. The problem
with Celluloid is its unwieldy one
hundred sixty-four minute running time.
Time after time, talking heads echo each other, almost verbatim, to
emphasize points under discussion. It is
a quality cast of commentators, including Krzysztof Zanussi, Naseeruddin Shah,
and Shyam Benegal, we just get it already.
An active supporter of the BFI’s restoration
efforts, Dungarpur obviously takes this subject to heart. He also incorporates some interesting film
clips into Celluloid, even for
viewers not so deeply steeped in Indian film history. While some disciplined pruning would have
tightened and strengthened the overall package, it is nonetheless a worthy
cinematic tribute. Superior to These Amazing Shadows, the documentary
tribute to the work of National Film Registry, but lacking the dramatic heft of
Golden Slumbers, Davy Chou’s moving elegy
for the Cambodian film industry destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, Celluloid Man fits quite nicely into
this year’s Cinema Reflected sidebar. It screens this Thursday (10/4) at the
Francesca Beale Theater as part of the 2012 NYFF.
Labels: Documentary, Indian Cinema, NYFF '12, P.K. Nair