Bioscopewala movie review: Danny Denzongpa is simply perfect in this heartfelt adaptation of a beloved tale

Anupam Kant Verma

May 25, 2018 17:35:10 IST

3/5

For its relatively short runtime of 90 odd minutes, Deb Medhekar packs in a multitude of ideas and themes within his debut feature film Bioscopewala, a loose adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s classic story, Kabuliwala. As a result, Bioscopewala often finds itself meandering through sub-plots and narrative zones that could have fared better with deeper exploration.

But the enormously evocative aroma of childhood nostalgia that floats through the film — its excesses balanced by the tender interplay between memory and forgetting involving a conflicted father-daughter relationship — and the strong performances, turn it into a poignant and heartfelt adaptation of a beloved tale.

A still from Bioscopewala.

Mini, the little girl from Tagore’s story, but a young woman studying film at Paris in the present day, is drawn back to her home in Kolkata after her father’s demise in a plane crash. As soon as she opens the door to the old bungalow, she is unwillingly pulled into a mystery surrounding Rehmat Khan, an aged man receiving shelter in her house. She soon discovers that he is the beloved Bioscopewala from her childhood, an Afghani migrant who’d go door to door showing film clips to children on his clunky contraption. While she’d been away, he’d been found guilty of murder and thrown into prison. Now released, he suffers from Alzheimer’s and has no one to take care of him.

Mini’s search for the truth behind Khan’s story leads her through a labyrinth of memories populated with strangers, down the lanes of the red-light district and the tragic history of Afghan refugees fleeing persecution at the hands of the Taliban. She tries to piece together the story of Khan’s life through interviews with the people he knew. We are shown snatches of her childhood and Khan’s life almost completely in flashbacks.

We go from riots and fight clubs to Khan’s efforts to sustain a cinema club in his native Afghanistan, also the reason behind his flight and the tragedy of his life. All through this, Mini comes closer to the personage of her father, as she learns about his life from the wreckage of the past.

Geetanjali Thapa is tasked with carrying the film on her shoulders. Her Mini is a winsome admixture of vulnerability and resolve, one that never runs into excess. We can feel the weight of the past and all the conflicting and nebulous stories it conceals on her shoulders. Bijendra Kala plays the guardian and sidekick to her amateur detective pursuits in his typically assured fashion. The more they learn about Khan, the more Thapa resolves to take his story to its logical end, come what may.

Danny Denzongpa is simply perfect as the Bioscopewala. Strength, righteousness and love flow through his being and infect everyone around him, leaving the audience beyond the bioscope and the film screen in thrall.

Medhekar is aware of the emotional weight and legacy of Tagore’s original story. In adding multiple new strands to his screenplay, he announces his ambitions to the audience. Despite the complexity that may threaten to derail the narrative, Medhekar chooses to engage with Afghan and Indian political and social history in retelling the tale of the man from Kabul.

It is to his great credit that even with the already massive emotional weight of Mini and Khan’s story, his narrative doesn’t fall apart, although it is ridden with missteps here and there. He even manages to pay a moving homage to the act of storytelling and its capacity to stoke rebellion and turn into a beacon of hope in dark times. There is a whiff of the saccharine in the mise en scene of the film, but it never totally distracts from the strength of the story being told.

Fiction, Stephen King once wrote, is the truth inside the lie. Mini’s crucial decision at the fag end of the film flirts with the danger of being construed as an outright lie. But lodged neatly within that directorial decision is the central truth of cinema itself. These are real people playing other people and often convincing us about the veracity of the fiction they seem to have taken for the unadulterated truth about their character’s lives.

This crucial decision makes us want to stand steadfastly by Medhekar’s boldness as a director, even overlook the many flaws of his film for its duration as we surrender to the recreation of a story that was such an essential part of our childhood. For, as King writes further, the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.

Updated Date: May 25, 2018 17:35 PM