Director: Deb Medhekar
Cast: Geetanjali Thapa, Danny Denzongpa, Adil Hussain, Brijendra Kala, Tisca Chopra, Ekavali Khanna
Bioscopewala, a thoughtful adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala, thrives on its little updates and changes to the original short story. Perhaps the most relevant difference is the introduction of the titular character as a harbinger of mobile dreams – a man using his beloved bioscope to spread the joy of Indian movies in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. This man, Rehmat Khan (an ageless, affecting Danny Denzongpa), later a Pathani refugee in Calcutta, holds the key to the way we perceive the film he occupies. It isn’t so much about the “magic” of movies for him. You suspect he finds, in those films, a reason to be distracted from his life, just as he finds in a neglected Bengali child the comfort of his distant Kabuli daughter.
Director Deb Medhekar’s decision to employ the language of cinema as a narrative device is not without reason. Much of the story relies on memories – flashbacks, hindsight, joining the dots in the mind’s editing suite – of a young lady (the talented Geetanjali Thapa) named Minnie. In a way, Bioscopewala is a Kahaani for kids – and not just because of the contemporary Kolkata setting. It details the emotional upheavals of a girl’s mission to use her hometown as an ally to explore the posthumous legacy of a loved one.
Minnie, too, depends on a familiar environment, an inclusive culture, to achieve some kind of closure. She pauses her life as a film student in France to uncover the truth behind her estranged father’s (Adil Hussain) presence on an ill-fated airplane to Afghanistan. It has something to do with an old, Alzheimer’s-afflicted Rehmat: an ex-convict who is suddenly in her custody after her fashion-photographer father spent years petitioning to reduce his life sentence.
She is a documentary filmmaker, so naturally there’s an urge to investigate and identify stories beyond her reach. She comes across documents, photographs, faces that remember her more than she remembers them, and feelings that alter her cynical perspective of unconditional relationships. Lyrically, the more she finds out about the father she always had – her childhood hero, the broken Bioscopewala – the more she discovers about the father she never had, the empathetic man who had boarded the flight that night.
The metaphors of Bioscopewala are striking: the image of a digital camera capturing the remains of burnt film reels, a digital projector juxtaposed against a discarded bioscope, a film about a man who has forgotten his footage
We tend to be wary of protagonists with a passion for filmmaking – invariably, they end up recording their journey and winning random awards. But Minnie’s career here is thankfully used in service of her internal transformation rather than external redemption. At one point, when reminiscing about the man in front of a group of mourners, she remarks, “As a child, I only ever saw half of his face, because the other half was always obscured by a camera.” She might have realized, in the moment, that Rehmat – whose bioscope she often peered into – could have said the same thing about her while sounding half as pained.
Actors like Brijendra Kala and Tisca Chopra lend her journey the kind of intimacy that often goes missing when writers overplay the turmoil of their primary characters. It’s only natural to be reminded of Minnie’s confused mindscape. But it’s human to be reminded that those around her have their own stories that she has only just entered.
The metaphors of Bioscopewala are striking: the image of a digital camera capturing the remains of burnt film reels, a digital projector juxtaposed against a discarded bioscope, a film about a man who has forgotten his footage. But this story, more than anything, explores the bittersweet contradictions of growing up. Most of us have had definitive characters like the Bioscopewala in our childhoods – people whose peripheral legacies inevitably fade during our pursuit of adulthood. Even when we move forward, it always comes at the cost of leaving someone behind.
But these people, for whom you might have been more than a passing phase, don’t fade. Not all of us are as fortunate – and unfortunate – enough as Minnie to be given a reason to revisit, and restore, these influences. A film like this only proves that it’s a matter of reassembling the lost footage.