The cellar of the building that housed the Kamalalaya Book Depot, near Secretariat at Statue - this is where the box containing the reels of the silent Malayalam movie ‘Marthanda Varma’ was found, decades and decades after it was made.
Veteran film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan was one in the team who tried to retrieve it. “Everyone was scared to go near it. And when we opened it, there was a foul smell. But we did manage to get the reels. Later, we also found that the film had the footage of the ‘aaraattu’ procession, shot in the 1930s,” said Adoor, in ‘The Celluloid Man,’ a tribute film to master archivist P K Nair, screened at the IFFK 2012.
Right from Nasarudeen Shah, Saeed Mirza and Mahesh Bhatt to Girish Kasaravally and Mrinal Sen, the film has many leading figures of Indian films recalling some very interesting incidents from their FTII days and thanking this master preserver for safeguarding the rich past of the Indian cinema. The director of the film, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur has also on frame, master film-maker Krystof Zanussi and leading actor Shabhana Azmi pleading to give film archiving the respect it deserves.
Apart from the archiving part, the film has some light moments about the secret screenings of certain films and even that of the censored bits at wee hours in the morning at the film institute and how the students would request ‘Nair saab’ (as Nasarudeen Shah and a many others call him) to let them in.
Shivendra Singh, who has drawn a comparison of P K Nair with French film archivist and co-founder of Cinematheque Francaise, has also detailed the special relationships P K Nair shared with Ritwik Ghatak who was his room-mate for a long while and with the late John Abraham.
Perhaps, P K Nair was one of the very few people who could understand Ritwik Ghatak’s eccentricities and uniqueness. Same in the case of John Abraham, who would insist on seeing ‘Gospel According to Mathew’ late one night and then decide on making ‘Amma Ariyan’ the next morning.
And throughout the two-and-a-half hour long film that tracks P K Nair’s hunt for the films and the restoration, the audience is left dumbstruck with the man’s ability to recall what is in each reel of a film, among the thousands of films that he has restored or archived.
Probably none of the IFFK delegates would have realised the greatness of this personality, who has been a constant feature of every film festival in the city, with respect to Indian cinema or the understanding of cinema. But the relationship of Nair with his daughter Beena was something very evident to the festival buffs, with the daughter always seen guiding her father through the crowds, safely into the cinema halls.
Incidentally, the film was screened at the same theatre, Sree Padmanabha, where P K Nair had seen his first film. “It was a tent cinema theatre with beach sand on the floor,” he recalled in the film and just before the screening. And today, outside the same theatre, was this signature campaign endorsing the presentation of Phalke Award to Nair. No delegate had any second thoughts about putting his signature on the memorandum, which will be presented to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy very soon.