Meet the Screen Saver

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), May 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Meet the Screen Saver


New Delhi, May 5 -- In the on-campus theatre at Pune's Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), students through the 60s, 70s and 80s would often spot the quiet, shadowy figure of a man watching film after film in the dark, scribbling in his notebook by the light of a little torch. If a student asked for

a particular scene from a film, he could usually name, from memory, exactly which reel to find it in. It was because of this man, in fact, that Dadasaheb Phalke - who made India's first film, Raja Harishchandra, in 1913 - gained recognition as the father of Indian cinema.

"PK Nair discovered Raja Harishchandra, rescued the only remains of its original reels and ensured that Phalke went down in history. He himself, unfortunately, has not got due recognition for his contributions," says Shivendra Singh Dungarpur (left), Mumbai-based filmmaker and director of Celluloid Man, a 2012 documentary film celebrating the life of PK Nair.

Nair single-handedly founded the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) on the FTII campus in Pune, in 1964. Now a sprawling two-storey structure not far away, NFAI is the only official film archive in the country.

On May 3, Dungarpur's film on Nair hit screens across the country, coinciding with the centenary year of Indian cinema. Screened at 24 film festivals around the world, it won two National Awards this March, for editing and for best biographical documentary.

An ad filmmaker, Dungarpur decided to make Celluloid Man in 2010, after attending a festival showcasing old, restored films in Italy. "I felt that I had to do something to preserve our cinematic heritage," says Dungarpur, 43, a former student of FTII.

Nair, now 80, began his love affair with Indian cinema in his hometown of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, where he spent his boyhood sneaking out to movies and obsessively collecting film memorabilia. In 1958, despite his family's disapproval, 25-year-old Nair moved to Mumbai with the dream of becoming a filmmaker, and showed up outside Mehboob Studios in Bandra. "He trained for a few years under director Mehboob Khan and even wrote a script, but he soon realised that he wasn't cut out to make films," says Dungarpur.

Instead, in 1960, Nair applied to the newly-founded FTII for the post of assistant librarian. In the library, surrounded by filmmaking books and a small collection of movies, he discovered his mission. "I realised the need for an archive of all films made in India," says Nair. …

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