Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Film Archives and P.K.Nair

The presence of National Film Archives in the Institute campus itself was a great blessing to the students of Cinema. Many days a number of films new and old arrive there from countries around the world. All the films were screened and assessed about their contents as well as their physical condition before being sent to the storage vaults by none other than P.K.Nair. The students were permitted to attend the archives' screening conducted in the Institute theatres after the class hours. It was a rare opportunity for the students to see such a large number of films from such a variety of film making countries and that too right in their campus. I do not know of any other Institute in the world which had this kind of access to world cinema, at that period.

Sometimes when films arrive in large numbers the screenings will be held early in the mornings and even on holidays too. Nair saab never sat alone in the theatre even at unearthly hours, for there will be always a faithful crowd of students around him to give company. Only it thinned when the films were some very old Indian films from silent era or early sound period.

An interesting thing happened during our time at the Institute. In the height of winter I woke up early in the morning due to the extreme cold and looked out of the window from my hostel room. I saw a large crowd of students in front of the class room waiting for the projectionist to come and open the theatre doors. Later I came to know the real reason for the sudden interest of the students in the screening in spite of the extreme cold climate. The Madras Regional Film Censor Board was wondering what to do with the accumulating collection of censor cuttings from the regional films censored their from their very inception. Finally some one higher there had decided to send this huge collection of tidbits to the Archives! All these bits of objectionable material was joined together and projected for cataloging purposes. Even though the details of screening was kept a secret and the timing was fixed at odd hours, some of the students smelled it and thronged the theatre. They had their eyes full with glimpses of gyrations and exposure of flesh by sexy sirens from the south! Unfortunately I missed the show as I was feeling too lazy to come down from my room because of the cold outside!

An amazing thing was that when some of the cans were opened in the archives, it was found to contain bricks and stones etc instead of film clips. Obviously some body in the censor office returned the cuttings back to the producers for clandestine joining in the films and filled the cans with some weight!

I should also mention about the great support Nair Saab got from the dedicated staff who worked there day and night, especially Kurien, Varghese and Parvathy Nair (a former Editing alumni). Beautiful Parvathy Nair with her elegant demeanor, was the centre of attraction amongst the students. While I was in the final year I had an opportunity to do the cinematography work in a documentary film directed by her. The film was shot in Bombay and I had my maiden travel in the legendary Deccan Queen train.

After the Archives screenings Nair saab used to discuss the viewed films with the students and explained the aesthetics of cinema. It was a kind of informal education which contributed for the development of cinematic sensibility amongst the student community. All the students showed much respect to Nair Saab even many years after leaving the Institute.

I used to meet him often at the International Film Festivals at Chennai or Thiruvananthapuram all of which he very religiously attended. Later on when he built a house and settled there, we used to meet in film functions. Once I happened to be a member of the Film Preview committee of the International Film Festival of Kerala and for a week viewed hundreds of films and selected entries for various categories. Because of his extensive and exhaustive knowledge of Cinema he was much respected by the film makers of Kerala.

When I was the General Secretary of Malayalam Cine Technicians Association ( MACTA) during the Guru Pooja I had the privilege of honouring Nair Saab by conferring the Honourary Membership of MACTA. Though he was just recovering from an accident injury in Pune, he had travelled all the way to Ernakulam to attend the function.

Nair Saab at MACTA Function
Myself making the introduction speech

1 comment:

Sujit Sivanand - സുജീത് ശിവാനന്ദ്‌ said...

What is current status of the film archives? Have they moved to digitizing the library, since the advent of new technology? Once I recollect reading a news report about a fire at the archives.