Monday, May 6, 2013


Release date:
May 3, 2013

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

English with subtitles

A daughter fights back tears as she remembers how her father’s passion for cinema kept him away from home… A village areca nut seller tells us how world cinema was brought to his doorstep by that same man… Numerous Indian film stalwarts, many of them alumni of Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), recount with awe that this man would unrelentingly watch films, making copious notes about the condition of each print… A National Award winner recalls a kindness to a needy pupil… An ex-student’s eyes twinkle at the memory of rumours that Nairsaab would even steal, if the booty was a coveted print… Another chuckles as he relates a story involving Nairsaab, eager students and censored film clips… 

Great film makers are great storytellers, no matter what their genre or medium. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s documentary has all the elements that most directors of mainstream Indian fiction features count off their fingers while making films: isme emotion hai, drama hai, comedy hai, aur thhoda intrigue bhi. Only a man in love with cinema could have so passionately told the story of another man madly, crazily, blindly in love.

Celluloid Man is Dungarpur’s painstakingly researched biopic of legendary NFAI founder P.K. Nair. This could have been a dry, academic work. Could have been but is not. By combining sound bites – insightful and often humorous – of numerous film personalities from India and some from abroad, with rare footage of old films across languages, interviews with Nair and his family, Dungarpur brings to us an entertaining, affectionate portrait of a man every devotee of Indian cinema would probably bow to if his existence was common knowledge. Celluloid Man is a much-needed tribute. That it’s not a hagiography makes it even more charming.

For laypersons, especially children of the digital era, it may seem that a film once made lives forever. Actually not. Films get destroyed. Reels get lost. Reels get sold for the silver that can be obtained from them. Prints deteriorate. Prints get discarded because no one thought they were worth keeping. Enter: the archivist. Dungarpur paints a picture for us of Nair’s commitment to cinema; how he travelled extensively to retrieve long-lost prints of old films for NFAI in a country that still does not take film archiving seriously...from 1964, when this FTII employee was tasked with building NFAI, till his retirement nearly three decades later.  

This is a man who is the only reason why many cinematic national treasures have been preserved for posterity. Celluloid Man contains clips from some of those gems: India’s first full-length feature Raja Harishchandra, early experiments in special effects with Sant Tukaram and with little Lord Krishna standing on the head of the serpent in Kaliya Mardan, Bimal Roy’s Udayer Pathey, footage of Fearless Nadia, a scene from Achhut Kanya starring Devika Rani with an unimaginably skinny young Ashok Kumar and more. A director’s note tells us: “Few are aware that 1700 silent films were made in India of which only 9 survive thanks to the efforts of Mr. Nair.” This is a man who was neither classist nor regionalist while archiving. We discover that Nair got addicted to cinema from the day he first watched a film lying on a floor strewn with sand in a Thiruvananthapuram theatre; he began collecting back then…anything relating to cinema…even weighing machine tickets with photographs of stars at the back. Celluloid Man travels with him from his home state Kerala to Pune to the frustrations of a retired life.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur
The late film critic Roger Ebert once said: “No good film is too long. No bad movie is short enough.” Aashiqui 2 was 140 minutes too long. Celluloid Man’s 164 seem just about right. Except for one overly long, meandering sound bite from Naseeruddin Shah, and a pointless one from Saira Banu, there’s little that feels extraneous here. Okay, perhaps the point didn’t need to be repeated so many times that Nair has a phenomenal memory for reel numbers and shots! But these are niggling concerns in an otherwise lovely film.

Celluloid Man won two National Awards in 2012: for Best Biographical Film and Best Editing (Irene Dhar Malik). Perhaps it’s time to consider a Dadasaheb Phalke for its subject. P.K. Nair deserves no less. Thank you Shivendra Singh Dungarpur for this quietly engaging film.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
164 minutes

Footnote: Celluloid Man features interviews with P.K. Nair, Krzysztof Zanussi, Lester James Peries, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Gulzar, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Kumar Shahani, Naseeruddin Shah, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mahesh Bhatt, Rashid Irani, Shabana Azmi, Girish Kasaravalli, Ketan Mehta, Bala Nair, Santosh Sivan, Nasreen Munni Kabir, Suresh Chabria, Ramesh Sippy, Yash Chopra, Kamal Haasan, Sitara Devi, Saira Banu, Dilip Kumar, Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Rajkumar Hirani, K. Hariharan, Jaya Bachchan, Surama Ghatak (wife of the late Ritwik Ghatak), Shaji N. Karun, Venu, Sriram Raghavan, Basu Chatterjee, H.N. Narahari Rao, Jahnu Barua, Ashutosh Gowariker, K.S. Sasidharan, Balu Mahendra, Beena Nair (daughter of P.K. Nair), K. Ramachandra Babu, Kundan Shah
Photographs courtesy: Dungarpur Films
Celluloid Man trailer: 
Celluloid Man-Kamal Haasan trailer: 
Celluloid Man-Ashutosh Gowariker trailer: 
Celluloid Man-Jaya Bachchan trailer: 

1 comment:

  1. The rating stars cannot do justice to this movie. As this is not a movie. It is a bitter truth about this unique job for which not even those care whose hard work is being take care by this man. Its a story of a man's dedication of his life to an art and a struggle which no one notices and no one cares for.