The city of Pune holds a special place in the history of India. It has produced some of the greatest icons who have shaped our lives and changed the narrative for the good. From the freedom fighter, Bal Gangadhar Tilak to great musician Bhimshen Joshi, these Punekers have been able to inject a fresh perspective into their respective fields of work.
Today, we are proud to highlight one such Punekar who has single-handedly saved India’s cinematic heritage. This legendary film archivist was the founder of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), which is located in Pune.
He dedicated his whole life for preserving films and was instrumental in archiving several landmark Indian films like Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra and Kaliya Mardan, Bombay Talkies films such as Jeevan Naiya, Bandhan, Kangan,Achhut Kanya and Kismet, S.S. Vasan’s Chandralekha and Uday Shankar’s Kalpana.
P.K. Nair passed away this year on March 4 in Pune. Mr. Nair was fondly known as the guardian of Indian Cinema by his collegues.
Today, we are honored that Mr. Amit Bose, one of the most renowned film directors and editors of the country, who has directed classics like Abhilasha (1968) and edited films like Kabhuliwala, Sujata and Bandini has volunteered to write a small tribute to P.K. Nair. Mr. Bose and P.K. Nair were close friends and colleagues at the Film Institute of India, Pune.
Here is the tribute piece by Mr. Amit Bose:
I have wonderful memories of the years I was involved with the FTII, since its inception in 1960/61 and known P.K. ever since. He was one of the humblest, softly spoken, kindest and very focused persons I have ever met. He was one who lived only for what he wanted in his life, the saving of the valuable assets of the Great Indian Film Industry.
He restlessly and relentlessly worked to procure every single footage of film ever made by the great filmmakers of India; from its infancy of the Indian Film Industry till he retired. Without his efforts, India would have been poorer, for not having the benefit of knowing how the pioneers brought to the Indian Screen, the moving pictures from the silent era to the talkies and beyond, the transition from black and white to colour. We would never have seen the footage of Dadasaheb Phalke’s works and his contemporaries. His only passion was for saving the history of the Indian films and its makers.
India and the rest of the filmmaking world are aware that we have a rich film history. Without P. K., I am convinced we would have lost it all due to careless negligence of the producers in general, with a few exceptions. P. K. would go hunting everywhere, relentlessly, around the country, wherever prints and negatives of films were stored, in damp conditions or in rusting film cans. With the producers’ permission, he brought the films to Pune and restored them as best as the laboratories could, to their original state. He found a safe place to store them in proper temperatures and conditions, and, almost single-handedly established the Film Archives of India. Few people in their lives seek and achieve a dream. P. K. was one who did and fulfilled his dream. From the day he saw his first film, as a young boy, he knew his destiny, and he was one of the few who achieved the DESTINY he lived for.
I had sincerely hoped that P. K. would be recognised by the Indian Government, and awarded him the highest honour of the land, the Padma Bhushan, for his undivided search and quest for saving the history of Indian cinema. Perhaps too, there is still time to honour Shri P. K. Nair, with a posthumous award, which would recognise his gift, his devotion and love for the Indian filmmakers, the films and the great Indian film industry’s wonderful heritage.
In his passing, Indian cinema has lost one of the greats. P. K. Nair is a legend and will remain so as long as there is a film industry in India. Let us cherish his memory.