If you are from the pre-millennial era like yours truly, you probably have some distinct memories of Sunday television. There was “Chitrahar” just before lunch and the news followed by a montage of “Aapan Yana Pahilat Ka”and a late afternoon movie.
The same six to seven shown in a loop throughout the year – I’m not sure whether it was because DD was on a tight budget or the I&B Ministry wanted to keep the audience on a restricted low-calorie diet. One of the movies I remember seeing many times over was “Kabuliwala”, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s short story by the same name. I remember the exact tune of the sing-songy way Mini would call out, “Kabuliwala! O kabuliwala!”
So, when “Bioscopewala” released, nostalgia made me heady and inhibited my power to concentrate (Yes, that’s a real power). I snuck away from my desk to catch an afternoon show of the film, which was described as an adaptation of Tagore’s story.
This version of the classic focuses on Mini’s perspective. Grownup and working as a filmmaker in Paris, Mini has to make an unscheduled trip to her hometown Kolkata when her father dies in a plane crash on his way to Kabul. On her first day back in Kolkata, the police releases an ex-convict into her custody. At first, Mini is irritated to be straddled with this stranger but it does not take long for memories to come rushing back and for her to realise that he is no stranger. He is the bioscopewala, a travelling cinema of sorts, an important part of her childhood, the person who kindled in her the love for moving images. She finds out that her father had spent the better part of the last decade fighting to get the man lawfully released and he was the reason her father was making the trip to Afghanistan. She takes it upon her to fulfil her father’s wish and reunite the bioscopewala with his family.
The storyline moves in parallel timelines between Mini’s past and her present. The backstory unfolds through flashbacks and letters and pictures. As Mini investigates the bioscopewala’s roots, she also reconnects with her own and reconciles with the distance that had crept up between her and her father.
The movie also subtly draws attention to some relevant issues. Displacement of refugees and their miserable conditions as they flee from the horrors of their homeland only to be greeted by apathy from their new homes. Ordinary lives ravaged by wars they have no influence on and childhoods destroyed by death or worse still by living in the shadow of war. At the core of it though it is the story of Mini, the little one and the grown-up one, and her efforts to reunite with them both.
It is impossible for me to compare the two. One, because it’s been years since I saw “Kabuliwala”. Two, because the movies are driven through very different perspectives, they are distinctly different. There are holes one could pick in “Bioscopewala” and question the possibility of certain happenings. But I don’t care to. The movie pulls me within and carries me with it, I hope against hope that Mini will find Bioscopewala’s little Rabia – and that’s all I really care about.
Seasoned actors have been cast who have effortlessly donned the garb of their characters and made them their own. But, it is Danny Denzongpa that wows, not just by his acting chops but also his youthful complexion. This man just does not seem to age! Maybe it is the mountain air, he lives there, descending only when he signs on a film.
That’s what I need, I realise, as I examine the bags under my eyes and burrows in my forehead – several ounces of the mountain air every day! So, if you like my blog contribute in kind, a brick at a time, towards my house in the hills, with a writing desk by the window and a bioscope a short walk away.