Bioscopewala: A Beautiful, Nostalgic and Poignant Ode
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Director Deb Medhekar’s Bioscopewala is loosely based on Rabindranath Tagore’s classic short story Kabuliwala. The story takes a non-linear approach that takes you back to the significant, poignant and beautiful memories of the central characters. Sure, the film tries to tell the audience too much in such little time. But the misstep it takes is buried by the brilliant interlacing that conveys complex emotions using the frail vulnerabilities of the characters.
Mini (Geethanjali Thapa), a young up and coming documentary filmmaker studying film in Paris is pulled back to her hometown of Kolkata due to her father’s demise following a plane crash. As Mini opens the door to her old and rustic bungalow, she finds an aged man inside. Just as she begins to unravel his identity, she learns that he is none other than the bioscopewala, Rehmat Khan (Danny Denzongpa), who went door to door to showcase clips of films back when she was a little child. Soon, Mini discovers that Khan was charged with murder and recently released in a frail state. Now, with a severe case of Alzheimer’s, he seeks shelter at her home, with no one to look after him. Determined to seek the truth behind his capture, Mini begins to interview people who knew him and goes back in time to put together the mystery that led Khan to such a tragic sentence. The discoveries Mini makes about herself and her father and the strenuous life Khan had as an Afghan refugee forms the crux of the story.
More than anything else, Bioscopewala speaks highly of director Deb Medhekar’s boldness, confidence and clarity as a filmmaker. Considering the fact that Tagore’s tale already carries a lot of emotional strokes, he takes that tale and makes it his own by also choosing to address the social, political and historical context between Afghanistan and India back then. Most directors might think the emotional weight of the core story would alone suffice. But choosing to explore the extremely fragile political and social scenarios in Afghan and India is a bold and beautiful decision.
One of the other admirable aspects of the film is Medhekar’s lovely use of the film language. He puts into action many admirable and arresting metaphors that provoke great thought. For instance the way a digital camera captures the decaying film rolls is deeply intriguing. In this manner, the digital and film era are pitted against each other to metaphorically convey the past, present and future of the characters. One of the reasons why this creative usage is so awe-inspiring is because the whole film is interplay between the past and present. So, to take the audience back to the past and induce powerful memories is only possible with a little magic. He brings alive the magic of storytelling by incorporating such lovely metaphors in a thought-provoking fashion.
But Bioscopewala isn’t entirely without faults. Due to the multiple subplots it takes us through in its short run time of 90 minutes, you begin to feel like multiple aspects of the central and sub-plot are not explored to their fullest potential. Another minor flaw is the slightly overpowering sentimentality that sometimes seeps into the narrative. Nevertheless these are overlookable when you consider the bigger picture. Moreover, the nostalgic uninhibitedness that is present throughout Mini’s childhood portions makes you forget the mishaps instantly.
Geethanjali Thapa delivers an astounding performance as Mini. She steps into her character’s shoes to bring alive a contrast of fragility and determination to Mini’s personality. As she travels back and forth in time, the importance of the past and the effect it has on her present scenario is enacted realistically by Thapa.
Danny Denzongpa is clearly born for the role of Rehmat Khan, the bioscopewala. He digs deep into his character and pulls out vulnerabilities, earnestness and a whole lot of love with utmost conviction.
The characters of Brijendra Kala and Tisca Chopra are quite fascinating too. Their performances lend the film much more depth. When their stories get interlaced in the screenplay, it lends the tale some much-needed creative layering.
On the whole, Bioscopewala is a heartfelt ode to Tagore’s Kabuliwala. It is bittersweet, nostalgic and simply beautiful. Though there are imperfections, the cracks that these flaws leave behind are sealed with the magic of earnest story-telling.