The Last Bioscopewallah: Md. Salim’s Struggle In The Age Of Smartphones

The last of the Bioscopewallah on the streets of Kolkata, Md. Salim has no scope anymore.

His heirloom trade of showing people five-minute flicks in his hand-winding projector is now going to rest forever. The reason is obvious: the smartphone and its handpicked offering instantly available in one’s hand. As far as films and videos are concerned, they gradually pushed Salim and his bioscope off the dingy gullies of Kolkata, where he started off as a boy half a century ago. 

So popular was his bioscope during those days that Tim Stemberg made a 14-minute documentary on Md. Salim and his Japanese projector. He named the documentary, nominated for Oscars in 2008, as Salim Baba

The procedure and execution of making a 3-hour movie into a 5-minute flick is an interesting one. 

The young boy Salim would accompany his father, who’s a connoisseur of movies, on the congested flea and wholesale market of Murgi Bazar. He would be excited to observe his father rummaging through the discarded movie cans. Defective celluloid roles and all its celebrity residents in the can were bought by the senior movie buff. 

Both father and son carried home all the famous heroes and heroines of Bollywood. On reaching his film clinic, his first job would be to discard reels. Exactly. He could cut off all that he felt would be of no use and could not be revived. Whatever came to his hands, he’d join those bits and pieces to create a continuous story.

Salem’s father, I suppose, was a film institution in himself. With his new patchwork movie, a flick of 8 to 10 minutes, he would be the Pied Piper, the dream Merchant luring young and old to his bioscope. The residents of the narrow lanes and neighbourhoods would wake up. They were very sure that all they would receive with a paltry sum would be: entertainment, entertainment, and entertainment! 

After his father’s demise, Md. Salim took up the onus of showing people their favourite movie heroes. Under the black curtains, through the conical windows, people would patiently queue up and anticipate their turn. Sitting on their haunches, on their knees, the viewers watched Dharmendra wiping off the villain, Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor gyrating at hit numbers. 

Md. Salim did grow up and technically updated his shows. He used old MP3 players and attached them to the ever so humble mute shows. 

Time has changed, and now, Salim Bhai is finding it hard to cope up with the smartphone revolution, where all movies can be streamed via your phones. His bioscope is outdated, and no one has the interest to enjoy movies on it. 

I wonder if this institution of bioscope, being the last surviving one, can be conserved and preserved for posterity. Can Salim’s efforts and willingness, his passion and bloodline, be curated for a case study in film institutes? How can society, clans and the film fraternity allow it to decay and perish and seem to not have any concern about it? 

As a tribute and salute to the pioneer, I leave my poem for Md. Salim. I also send good vibes to those who wish to help Md. Salim to preserve his family heirloom art of allowing people to watch a 3-hour movie in five minutes. The show must go on and dreams should always be accessible! 

The last may carry on! 

Why does he have to retire?

Why does he have to say goodbye?

Why does he have to be smartphone shy?

Please hold the bioscope close,

Please close the doors for him to paradise.

Restore the dignity of this artist,

As he has shown and celebrated cinema in his capacity.

The Bioscopewallah is the last of the Mohicans,

An endangered species,

Let him not die in peace,

Neither dwindle away in pieces.

Art lovers, movie enthusiasts,

Great guns of the celluloid world.

This piece of queer machine

Has contributed to our well being.

Society has drawn out their hopes from here,

We have gone down on our knees,

To travel to worlds of fantasy,

Catharsis worked and we rejuvenated

To face the grindings of reality.

Calling out to those who

Conserve heirloom.

Business houses,

Who believe,

Objects should be cared for posterity.

An Antique and a relic,

A story weaver, a harbinger,

An ambassador,

The one who truly endeared to endure,

He cannot be left to be consumed

In the gnawing jaws of time and modernization.

Can we do something, collectively, as a community?

The picture has been taken from GetBengal.
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