Rabindranath Tagore’s story ‘Kabuliwala’, made into a feature film by Hemen Gupta in 1961 with Balraj Sahni in the titular role, was a tale of a father-daughter relationship. It was also about how the distance from a loved one, forced by circumstances in life, can make one fear being forgotten and seek out proxy affection in someone who reminds one of her/him. And, it was as much about the love for the homeland left behind, not jingoistic but the kind that gnaws at the heart.
- Director: Deb Medhekar
- Cast: Danny Denzongpa, Geetanjali Thapa, Adil Husain, Tisca Chopra, Brijendra Kala, Maya Sarao, Ekavalli Khanna, Miraya Suri
- Run Time: 90 minutes
- Storyline: A contemporary spin on Rabindranath Tagore’s story ‘Kabuliwala’
Deb Medhekar’s contemporary spin on the story packs in many more layers and sub-layers (for the lack of a better word) to it. Some of them are thoughtfully handled, others leave you asking for more. Laudably, the essential humanism of Tagore’s writing, stays. More than nationalism, Bioscopewala is about a civil war-torn Afghanistan and the growing bigotry. The pashtun Kabuliwala of yore becomes Rehmat Khan (Danny Denzongpa) from the Hazara community, who’s in the sights of the Taliban for showing films in a makeshift cinema hall at his home. So, at another level, Bioscopewala is about seeing cinema as an act of rebellion against repression. It’s then a significant film, at a time when arts and culture is being co-opted within a larger political agenda.
It’s also about guilt and redemption, about a fractious father-daughter relationship (Adil Husain and Geetanjali Thapa) that finds peace when the daughter goes about completing a journey of redemption that the dead father had embarked upon. It’s about coming to terms with loss. Most of all it’s about the forgotten past and its many faded memories, revisiting and clinging on to them. It’s also about deliberately pushing back memories to the recesses of the mind so they never come alive.
Despite being called Bioscopewala , the film is not entirely about him. It’s about the recollection of him through many people who walked in and out of his life. Some of the characters and their relationships are compelling and nuanced – Minnie’s widowed father and his lover Shobita (Ekavali Khanna), for instance. I wanted to see more of that relationship. While the film is about Minnie’s expedition to find out more about the man who sparked a love for cinema in her, it’s also about her reconciling with the two father figures she had left behind in chasing her dreams. The Bioscopewala himself, seems disembodied for a long while, someone you piece together with several people’s versions of who he was. It’s only towards the fag end that he and the one who plays him, i.e. Danny Denzongpa, come alive forcefully, Cinema Paradiso style.