DVD REVIEW: CELLULOID MAN / CERT: E / DIRECTOR: SHIVENDRA SINGH DUNGARPUR / STARRING: SAIRA BANU, SHYAM BENEGAL, JAHNU BARUA, JAYA BHADURI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Celluloid Man is Director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s love letter to renowned and revered Indian film archivist P. K. Nair. Taking 2 years and 11 visits to get permission to shoot with Nair in the archive, this documentary is a steely act of determination, showcasing the significance and the art of archiving.
Much of the documentary follows Nair reminiscing to camera, his warm voice welcoming and informative. A fragile and ageing man, Nair touches on his earliest experiences with cinema and his love of film is infectious. Curiously, Nair seems at odds with his near mythic status, to him cinema comes first and foremost.
There are interviews with a variety of the Indian film industry’s pundits, including directors, critics and actors sharing their views and anecdotes of Nair, some of which are very moving. Nair is undoubtedly gifted, but you quickly get the sense he’s a gentle-hearted and charismatic individual.
As you’d expect from a documentary focused on cinema, it’s very well directed with great shots of rusted film cans, demonstrating the fragility of film. Following Nair through his old haunts, India gets painted in a vivid light with much of the country’s rich modern history found on celluloid.
Celluloid Man is an insightful and profound documentary; at 2 hours 30 it does require a lot of resolve on the viewer’s part, however. Even if you’ve never watched a single Indian film before, there’s still plenty on offer here. It’s simply a film about cinema and the transparent line between archivist and historian.