A PEEK INTO HISTORY
India doesn’t have a particularly good record at preserving film history. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s insightful biography of legendary archivist P K Nair, Celluloid Man (2012) chronicles how Ardeshir Irani’s son sold the film negative of the first Hindi talkie Alam Ara (1931) as scrap. In one of the film’s most dramatic moments, neglected reels of old films cry out in the vein of that anguished climactic call by Meghe Dhaka Tara’s Neeta—“I want to live”!
Fortunately when FTII-trained writer-filmmaker Karan Bali stumbled upon a man called Ellis R Dungan who came from America in the 1930s and worked in the Tamil film industry for 15 years, there was enough archival material at hand to piece together his fascinating journey. Thanks to Dungan’s American roots Bali could trace his autobiography, photographs and documentary footage from material he’d donated to the West Virginia State Archives.
A poster for the new documentary in the style of the vintage cinema Dungan was associated with.