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SAGA CORNER

TheCelluloid Man – P K Nair

He was the man who introduced a new sensibility to many slowly and steadily cultivating a serious film culture. He had mapped Indian cinema with utmost precision. Paramesh Krishnan Nair, India’s film archivist and founder-director of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI),  who passed away on March 4 at Pune aged 83,  single-handedly salvaged and restored several films, including nine from Indian silent era, which would have never seen the light of the day. For Nair, films were dear to his heart. It was as if he was haunted by the sight of the negatives. He acquired over 12,000 films, including 8,000 Indian movies, and the rest foreign and began a task of preserving them, reel by reel. Nair, who won the epithet ‘celluloid man’  for his impressive work as founder of NFAI, always remained an eager student who visited and revisited the black and white reels of cinema history. The year was 1969. Nair traveled in pre-dawn in a tempo from Pune to Nashik that was to deliver newspapers to the mofussil region.

Nair hardly knew he was going to encounter history, He reached Nashik after midnight. Dadashaeb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema, showed him some print kept by the family in memory of the legend. Those were the prints of  Kaliya Mardan, a  1919  Marathi film, of Indian silent era. Back in the NFAI in Pune, Nair opened the can to find the print cut in several parts. Fortunately for him, the box also contained a worn notebook with sequence of the reels. Nair then began piecing the six reels together with the help of the notes. The rest was history in Indian cinema. Nair was determined to preserve some of India’s rich but totally ignored and lost film heritage that existed across the country with producers, distributors, the kabadi wallahs. Many stories are abound how, the archivist, collected rare films. A cow-shed in Kolkata, a kabadi-wallah in ‘chor bazaar’ at Mumbai, the family of a producer in Chennai– there was no place that was not visited by Nair if it could yield a fragment of the country’s film heritage. Nair was closely associated with critics and film luminaries like Marie Scton, Vijaya Mulay and Satish Bahadur.

The nine Indian slient films now extinct were salvaged by Nair. In a country, where 1.700 silents movies were made in 31 years, from 1899 to 1930, nine may seem like nothing but without Nair, the country might not have even those. Nair is the man responsible for managing the NFAI. Having joined the Films and Television Institute in Pune as Research Assistant in 1961, from 1965, when he was appointed Assistant Curator till 1991, when he retired nearly a decade as its Director, Nair acquired 12,000 films. The movies included, the works of legendary film maker, such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mirnal Sen, V Shantaram, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt. Then there were films of international stalwarts like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosava and Miklos Janeso.

Nair stood on top of the pyramid of the cinema of the country which produces the largest number of films in the world. Nair, who lived his work, legendarily, screened and watched films from the late to the wee hours. He was never found in the theater without his small torch and a notebook, in which he meticulously recorded reel by reel the content and condition of every single film print.”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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