Celluloid Man - Movie Review: Rare glimpses of Indian film heritage

    Celluloid Man - Movie Review
    IANS: "The West does not have a rich past but it is rich in history, whereas India has a rich past, but is poor in history," says Paramesh Krishnan Nair, the man who made us aware of Dadashaeb Phalke and Indian's first full-length feature film, "Raja Harishchandra", in his biographical film Celluloid Man.

    But Celluloid Man is more than just a biographical documentary detailing the life of India's first film archivist and founder of the National Film Archive of India, PK Nair. It tells us of the trials and tribulations of the man who helped us preserve Indian film heritage.

    The film begins with the octogenarian slowly and softly stating, "Cinema started as a wonder and magic which became an obsession and then a passion. Today, it is a part of me. I began to understand people better with my knowledge of cinema," superimposed against the backdrop of a huge screen showing clips from Ghatak's "Meghe Dhaka Tara".

    We're told that of 1,700 silent films made in India, the nine that survive are purely through Nair's efforts. The narration tells us of how his trip to Nasik, Maharashtra made Dadashaheb Phalke history and contains some excellent clips from silent era films like "Gallant Hearts", "Chandralekha", "Kalia Madan", "Udayer Pathey" and "Fearless Nadia".

    With comments from nearly 22 renowned film personalities regaling anecdotes about Nair along with clips from about 34 rare films and a couple of older documentaries, "Celluloid Man" can be interpreted as a full-length feature film that is richly textured with the history of Indian Cinema.

    Unlike the beginning, the film ends on a dramatic note again with a clip from Ghatak's "Meghe Dhaka Tara", where the protagonist screams, "Dada ami bachbo, dada ami bachbo" which means, "brother, save me". This haunting cry of desperation clearly endorses the negative state of functioning at the NFAI.

    The production quality of the documentary is of high standard. The frames shot in half-lit and mood lights layered sporadically over film clips makes it a delight to watch it. Shot in both 16mm and 35mm with the help of 11 DOPs (director of photography) using a variety of different color and black-and-white Kodak stocks the picture has a dense, unfailing, rich-hued look.

    While quality of the film editing pattern along with the sound track is smooth and flawless, there are a few glaring blunders in the subtitles that don't match with the content of the speech.

    An Indian 'Cinema Paradiso', it's the director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's tribute to his mentor. He has in all his enthusiasm glorified Nair, which he definitely deserves. But as a filmmaker, Dungarpur has omitted NFAI's current scenario, which could be misleading in its historical context.

    With a run time of 2-hour-and-20-minute, the film could be a little tedious. A little bit of trimming could help make the film more crisp and enthralling.

    A winner of two National Awards, the film is being released under the PVR Director Rare's banner. A must see for all cinema lovers.

    Producer: Dungarpur Films
    Director: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur
    Cast: PK Nair, Krzysztof Zanussi, Lester James Peries
    Release date: May 3, 2013

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