Speaking at the launch of the Film Heritage Foundation's second book PK Nair, Yesterday's Films for Tomorrow, director Chopra praised the late archivists immortal contribution to Indian cinema.
PK Nair deserves Padma Vibhushan: Vidhu Vinod Chopra at launch of Yesterday's Films For Tomorrow
Mumbai - 07 Apr 2017 16:30 IST
On the 84th birth anniversary of late archivist and film historian PK Nair, the Film Heritage Foundation of India launched its second book, Yesterday's Films For Tomorrow. The book launched by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, director Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Shyam Benegal, actor Naseeruddin Shah, along with Nair's family in attendance.
Edited by Rajesh Devraj, the book is a retelling of Nair's own experience as an archivist and historian. Dungarpur, documentary filmmaker and founder of the Film Heritage Foundation, praised Nair as an inspiration and said, "It was his inspiration that keeps me going."
Earlier, Amitabh Bachchan was scheduled to preside over the book launch. However, the actor came down with a high fever and sent a note apologising for his inability. Expressing 'shame' at being unable to come, Bachchan wrote "As a country we have shied away from the luxury of documentation.. leave alone its restoration and preservation - for films at least ..!! What you and your foundation have initiated is indeed a most selfless, but very important and necessary element, so assiduously worked upon by Mr Nair."
Dungarpur, who delivered the welcome speech, marked that Nair had been a prolific writer who kept notes and journals till his last years. It was the contents of these journals, preserved by his son Bala, that make up for most of the book.
Talking about the process of archiving, Dungarpur echoed Bachchan's sentiments saying, "There is an urgent need to preserve films and film culture." He added that the foundation is looking to partner with Cineteca Bologna and L'Immagine Ritrovata and Martin Scorcese's World Cinema Project to preserve material, train archivists, and build a space exclusively for archival cinema projects. Dungarpur added that the Foundation has already conducted two workshops for archivists and is planning another one in Chennai soon, at the insistence of actor Kamal Haasan.
Speaking of Nair's passion for films, director Shyam Benegal compared him with Henri Langlois of the Cinematheque Francais, as one of the 'only two giants' in the world of cinema who have contributed to the development of cinematic history. Benegal said, "Films are an extraordinary record frozen in time."
Narrating an excerpt from the book, actor Shah remarked how a large percentage of the industry still looks at cinemas as a business, rather than cultural history. At one point, reading about Nair's efforts to rescue celluloid film from being transformed into handbags and bangles, Shah said, "To think that Alam Ara is being worn around as a handbag by some lady." Alam Ara (1931) is one of the more famous lost films of Nair's collections.
Speaking after Shah, director Chopra dwelled on the passion in Nair for archiving. Chopra said, "When he was ill, I asked Shiv (Dungarpur) to bring him to Nair hospital. We could get him the best of rooms, the best treatment. And he told me the same thing, he would say: 'Save some films. Don't save me'. That says everything you need to know about PK Nair."
Chopra, who went to FTII during Nair's time at the institute recollected how the archivist once helped him watch Godard's Breathless despite him not having the permissions. He also remarked how his own first film, Satyakatha starring Shah and Om Puri, is currently untraceable.
Chopra concluded saying, "The government, if they are listening, need to confer Mr Nair with the Padma Bhushan or Padma Vibhushan, and help the archiving process seriously. To you all, and to those who love cinema, help this project continue further."