Celluloid Man is a documentary on a lover of film. This should be enough to convince you to watch this film. I hope it is. If not, read on.
P.K. Nair is a widely respected film archivist and scholar. The film is a collection of anecdotes and nostalgic remembrances of the man. There are even some exaggerated pieces of imagination or honest confessions. It shows him and the people who have learned under him speaking about his expansive love for the movies. Be it recent filmmakers like Rajkumar Hirani or respected stalwarts like Gulzar and Mahesh Bhatt. Actors ranging from Naseeruddin Shah to Jaya Bachchan got an introduction to world cinema through him. I was surprised to learn Jaya Bachchan was a devoted student of cinema.
I’m embarrassed to admit how little I knew of him. I knew what Henri Langlois and Martin Scorsese are to film archiving and film preservation but who was Mr. Nair? I had almost no clue. I am a part of the problem this documentary addresses. We have, time and again, failed to acknowledge our own and obsess over foreign triumphs. There is nothing wrong with knowing more about world cinema, if only we don’t ignore our own. What I loved about Mr. Nair’s personality is how he treated every film as a piece of history. It may be a C-grade film but in a few decades, it will be as valuable as a masterpiece since both are a historical document. This attitude of an enlightened cineaste is rare to find. Almost extinct. Everybody is a film “buff” these days (how I hate that term), hardly any who know movies. Not loving movies, that is easy to do. Knowing them is the tricky part.
My favorite segment is when a group of villagers in Heggodu share that they have seen Rashomon (1950) and Bicycle Thieves (1948) due to the efforts of Satish Bahadur (who brought these prints to be screened in villages). They think they were extremely lucky, I wonder if people today would feel so. When I came out of film school, one of my favorite hobbies was to introduce Kurosawa or Truffaut to non-film students (Bergman or Tarkovsky would be pushing it).
After a few years, I had stopped doing that because I dishearteningly gathered that nobody really cares. I’m glad I saw Celluloid Man because I understood that this didn’t stop Mr. Nair. The next generation is what matters. I’m going to actively re-start inspiring the people I know to watch movies which are important. Film preservation in cans is one thing, preservation in memory is more important. As Scorsese said, we may not have the same memories of our lives but film can serve as a collective memory and hence become cultural heritage. This needs to be passed on.
When I saw the clip of the ending of Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960) here, Nita’s cry of ‘I want to live’ sounded like films crying out and not wanting to die out in time. Worse, forgotten. The film isn’t a mournful tribute to cinema, if I’m giving that impression. There are several clips from movies which illustrate the joy of cinema. A song sequence with a young Ashok Kumar in Achhut Kanya (1936). Song sequences from Chandralekha (1948) and Kalpana (1948) are stunning. The logos of now-shut-down production houses. The title cards which announce the end of a film or the now-extinct ‘Samaapt’. It's pure nostalgia.
I can safely say Celluloid Man is the best Indian documentary I have ever seen. The reason is one man – P.K. Nair. Why? Because he knows and loves movies, we need men like that. The importance of loving movies as art must be recognized. P.K. Nair reminded me mostly of Martin Scorsese. His two brilliant documentaries - A Personal Joureny Through The American Movies (1995) and My Voyage to Italy (2001). His recent masterpiece Hugo (2011) was about a boy who saves a lost filmmaker’s work and restores his faith in life. P.K. Nair is Hugo. It’s affirming to know that there are real life Hugos out there, him and the man who made this documentary.
For Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, I only have gratitude. Thank you for making this film.view less