Bioscopewala review: Tagore's tale is told as homage to cinema

Film: Bioscopewala

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Hindi (U/A)

Cast: Danny Denzongpa, Geethanjali Thapa, Adil Hussain 

Rabindranath Tagore's Kabuliwala may be the most anthologised story in Indian literature. It has also had a long association with cinema in the way the story of Devdas has.

The stories in fact have much in common. Both written by early 20th century Bengali writers, Kabuliwala and Devdas have very similar origins. Both were first adapted on to the Bengali screen before making their entrance in Bollywood. Bimal Roy spearheaded the production of both the films in Hindi.

Devdas was remade in 2002. Though the film was a melodramatic mess, Sanjay Leela Bhansali did manage to make modern viewers familiar with the story. An adaptation of brilliance was Anurag Kashyap's irreverent Dev D, which felt and sounded very modern, while not letting go of the original's pathos.

Bioscopewala is a similar attempt: as in Dev D, a very familiar story, from a world remote to us, is retold to suit the tone and toner of our bleaker times.

However, while Dev D looks like it would have scandalised Devdas' author Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (which gave the film its unique flavour), Bioscopewala feels like a respectful nod at Tagore.

In Tagore's story, the kabuliwala is separated from Minnie after his crime, only to return to meet her years later on the day of her marriage. She is estranged from her own father as well as she grows into womanhood and with only a vague memory of this father figure.

In Bioscopewala, Minnie is a filmmaker living in France with her French boyfriend, similarly estranged from her father, now a strong and independent woman. She has not felt the bioscopewala's presence for decades and she has gotten used to her father focusing on his work as a fashion photographer more (the father in Tagore's story was a writer of romances).

Geethanjali Thapa plays Minnie as a distracted woman, a little out of touch with the people around her, slow to respond to others' needs. In Tagore's original, Minnie-the-child is striking but Minnie-the-adult barely makes an impact.

Bioscopewala not only gives the character the agency it deserves, it makes her the fulcrum of the plot.

The movement of the plot depends on how she figures out her complex emotional connections with both the father and the father-figure.

When we first meet Minnie, she is a brooder, and Geethanjali juxtaposes her nicely with the actor who plays Minnie-the-child, who all but screams out carpe diem.

Minnie is a good step forward for Bollywood, which is very shy to give its women characters their due.

Of course what steals the show is the Bioscopewala. Tagore's story, as well as the Tapan Sinha, Bimal Roy productions, had only focused on the father-daughter relationship. Bioscopewala gives the Afghan an origin story we didn't know we needed.

And this origin story is the backbone of the film. It tells the story of a country, now Taliban-infested, where watching cinema is a sin. So cinema becomes a way of clutching on to your rationality. The bioscope becomes a vestige of the clear and humane Afghan mind of the past. It is that spirit, though the film never explicitly states it, that leads to Minnie being a filmmaker.

Danny Denzongpa had big shoes to fill. The kabuliwala was previously enacted by Chhabi Biswas and Balraj Sahni, both giants of Indian cinema. So, even as one would be at a loss to select a Hindi actor who can live up to this heritage, Denzongpa's performance is measured and moving.

Bioscopewala is a powerful thriller, both intelligent and moving, with an excellent musical score. The last quarter is a bit weak, but the film, otherwise, is very accomplished.

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Bioscopewala review: Tagore's tale is told as homage to cinema

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