NFAI founder director P K Nair is no more

New Delhi, 4 March: Veteran archivist P K Nair, founder director of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune, died today. He was 86. After prolonged illness he breathed his last this morning at Sahyadri Nursing Home in Pune. He is survived by a daughter who lives in Thiruvananthapuram and a son who lives in Canada.

Paramesh Krishnan Nair, who had dedicated his life to preservation of films and building the collection of films at the NFAI, was instrumental in archiving several landmark Indian films like Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra and Kaliya Mardan, Bombay Talkies films such as Jeevan NaiyaBandhanKanganAchhut Kanya and Kismet, S.S. Vasan's Chandralekha and Uday Shankar's Kalpana.

Nair joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, as a research assistant in 1961 and went on to play a key role in the setting up of the NFAI in 1964. He was appointed assistant curator in 1965, and continued with the NFAI till 1991 and later became Director. He had helped acquire over 12,000 films for the archive. Of these, 8,000 were Indian and the rest foreign films.

His life and work was immortalised in the documentary Celluloid Man, made by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, which went on to win a national award.

Born on 6 April 1933 in Thuravanthapuram in Kerala, Nair developed an early interest in cinema. His initiation into films began with Tamil mythological films in the early 1940s such as K. Subramaniam's Ananthasayanam and Bhakta Prahlada. His fascination for cinema began here, though his family did not support his interest in films.

He graduated in science from the University of Kerala in 1953. Soon after, he went to Bombay (now Mumbai) to pursue a career in filmmaking.

Though he got some practical training in branches of film making from some of the leading film makers of Bombay, particularly Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, he realised that he did not have the ideal qualities to become a filmmaker himself. His interest lay more in the field of academics. As advised by Jean Bhownagary of Films Division, he appeared for an interview at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), was selected and joined the institute in March 1961 in the position of research assistant.

While at FTII, he assisted Marie Seton and Professor Satish Bahadur in initiating and conducting the film appreciation classes of FTII. He also did the spade work in establishing the film archive set up as a separate wing of FTII. He corresponded with the curators and directors of established film archives in the UK, USA, France, Italy, Poland, Soviet Union and other countries. All of them advised an independent autonomous entity for NFAI and not as a wing of FTII.

The National Film Archive of India was born in 1964 and Nair was appointed to the post of assistant curator in November 1965. He has, since then, established the archive from scratch by collecting films from all over India and the world.

He was promoted as Director of the archive in 1982. He spearheaded the NFAI, Pune for nearly three decades and built up the archive which now enjoys a vibrant international reckoning.

Landmark acquisitions include the Dadasaheb Phalke films and films of New Theatres, Bombay Talkies, Minerva Movietone, Wadia Movietone, Gemini Studios and AVM Productions.

He was instrumental in introducing the works of world masters of cinema like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Andrzej Wajda, Miklós Jancsó, Krzysztof Zanussi,Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, apart from the Indian stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, V. Shantaram, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt to FTII students, film society members, and other film study groups in the country.

He was also instrumental in setting up the International Film Festival of Kerala.

After his retirement, he lived in Pune not very far away from the NFAI and the FTII. 

Awards and recognition.

Nair was awarded the Satyajit Ray Memorial Award in 2008. Celluloid Man, the documentary on Nair was made by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur was premiered at the Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy in June 2012. 

Later it won two National Awards at the 60th National Film Awards, including Best Biographical Film and Best Editing. The film was released in India on 3 May 2013 to coincide with the centenary of Indian cinema.

The international federation of film critics, FIPRESCI, condoled the passing away of Nair. FIPRESCI India President H N Narahari Rao said in a statement: “It is with deep regret that we are recording here the sad demise of one of our most respected members of FIPRESCI-India P K Nair, former Director of National Film Archive of India and more popularly known as ‘The Celluloid Man’. He passed away today at Pune, the city where he built the Film Archive. He used to attend all the annual general meetings of FIPRESCI India at Goa IFFI without fail and guide us in our activities. We missed him last year but we received his message promptly that he was admitted to the hospital.  As a crusader who was deeply concerned with promoting good cinema in the country he made immense contribution to the growth of the Film Society movement in India during last five decades.”

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