Legendary archivist PK Nair’s unique obsession with cinema built a monument to the memory of Indian cinema – the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune. For the first time to archive his writings on cinema for posterity, Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) has brought together Nair’s writings in one volume Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow, slated to be released by Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai on April 6, Thursday.
Known as India’s ‘Celluloid Man’, P. K. Nair (1933-2016) bore the torch of preserving and archiving India’s rich cinematic heritage at a time when film preservation was virtually unheard of. For the first time to archive his writings for posterity, Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) has brought together Nair’s own writings on cinema in one volume Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow, slated to be released by Amitabh Bachchan at Colonial Hall, The Club in Andheri, Mumbai on April 6, Thursday.
Renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah will read extracts from the book, which has been edited by Rajesh Devraj and published by FHF, the only non-government film archive in the country with the support of Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
Nair’s unique obsession with cinema built a monument to the memory of Indian cinema – the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune. From the films of Phalke to the classics of the studio era, much of our film history would have been reduced to blank pages, but for his efforts.
Asked how the book was conceived and conceptualized, FHF’s founder director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who made the award-winning documentary on PK Nair Celluloid Man (2012) told this writer, “When PK Nair passed away last year on March 4th, he had left instructions with his family that they should give all his personal collection of books, catalogues, files, diaries and journals to Film Heritage Foundation to archive. While going through this material, we discovered that he had been a prolific writer on cinema and felt that this wealth of writing would make for a great book as he has written about cinema from so many different aspects.”
This book is a remembrance of a person who was obsessed with not just the stories that cinema told, but with all its facets — the form, function and the ephemera of the moving image. He was a collector, a cinephile, a historian, an archivist, an evangelist, a teacher and a student of cinema—all of which is reflected in this compilation of his writings.
Designed as an excellent compilation of Nair’s evocative memories of movie-going in the 1940s, and working with Mehboob, the legendary director of Mother India, Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow is also a first-person account of how Phalke’s Kaliya Mardan and several other lost films were salvaged.
Nair’s opinion pieces present views on the need to preserve films and the threats posed by the digital age, while a section on Indian film history provides fascinating insights into the silent era.
Were the essays collected from his published works or unpublished writings or both? Explains Shivendra, “We sourced the essays both from earlier published works as well as unpublished writing. Our editor Rajesh Devraj compiled the essays and structured the book. The essays cover the first time Nairsaheb watched a film when he was eight; the ten films he misses the most; his experience with the great filmmaker Mehboob Khan; film preservation in India; how he saved Phalke’s Kaliya Mardan; his notes on the song in Indian cinema and so on. The topics are wide-ranging and give an insight in to PK Nair’s all-encompassing obsession with cinema.”
Other highlights include an illustrated survey of poster art, and Nair’s ‘notes in the dark’: his essays on themes ranging from regional cinema to the use of song in Indian cinema and Devdas’ many avatars, drawn from a lifetime of watching movies. Absorbing and informative, Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow is a book for everyone who loves cinema, and cares about its past and its future.
Dungarpur is a filmmaker, archivist and restorer who has been steadfastly working on film preservation and restoration initiatives in India, emphasizing urgent need for policy framework and awareness and trying to save and salvage the fast disappearing vintage film heritage. In an extensive interview with Silhouette Magazine earlier, he had spoken about the current state of film preservation and restoration in India, the hurdles and the roadblocks, the initiatives needed moving forward and of course, the film closest to his heart, Celluloid Man. Read the full interview here.
Keeping in view the current generation of students of cinema or cine lovers, many of whom have only a sketchy idea about our rich cinematic heritage, the books fulfils a great need of education and exposure into how Indian cinema evolved and flourished. Says Shivendra, “I think the book is a trove of information for any cinema lover irrespective of the generation who cares about the future and the past of cinema. It is rare to find a book that has such a wide-ranging multi-dimensional perspective of cinema written by a single author.”
PK Nair has influenced generations of Indian film students especially the Indian New Wave filmmakers such as Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and John Abraham.
“Engaging and thought-provoking . . .Nair’s great love for cinema is evident on every page,” said renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal said in an FHF release. The book is being distributed by Om Books International and will be available at all major bookstores as well as on Flipkart and Amazon.
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