Within the first few minutes of Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawala, there is a scene when the character played by Parambrata Chatterjee learns about his wife’s pregnancy and rushes home. He passes his father sitting in the living room and moves towards the bedroom. However, the camera doesn’t immediately follow him. After a few seconds, there is stifled cry of surprise heard from the bedroom and following the aural cue the camera moves in to find that Parambrata has lifted up his wife in his arms, rocking and swaying her around the room. Her arm or part of her dress brushes against the stacks of DVDs and they scatter all over the floor. By the time he puts her down on bed, bent over her, the entire room is filled with patches of multi-coloured light refracted from the shiny surfaces of the DVDs. The couple lie close to each other with a rainbow on the ceiling. Not a word is spoken, not a single of Rabindrasangeet is heard but the scene radiates hope and joy in abundance!
In fact, Cinemawala comes as quite a surprise. Given the circumstances where contemporary Bengali Cinema has set its bar so low that the mere encounter with an image, a solitary shot or maybe a complete scene which reflect certain investment in ideas, images, sounds and narration, deserve a special mention. With a medium which has successfully made its transition into an art form and already more than hundred years old, contemporary Bengali cinema is a poor rarity where the concern, at both the production and reception end, is largely with the content. The lack of investment in the formal or even the stylistic aspects of cinema is rather glaring. And this is where the film in question has succeeded in making its mark. Cinemawala features camera work focused on crafting images to narrate the story visually and carefully designed sound not just to complement the images but also to generate an affect, although the background score seemed somewhat over used in this regard. While the editing is effective in carrying the plot forward without falling into a redundant stasis, it could have adapted a more relaxed pacing especially in allowing the images to stay. Calling it a great film will be stretching the truth too much. But it is certainly a move in the right direction and can be viewed as the proverbial giant leap considering Mr Ganguly’s previous directorial outing resulted in the disastrous Bastu Shaap.
The film is an account of the last few days of a standalone theatre in a small suburban town owned by Pranab Das (Paran Bandopadhyay). The theatre has been out of business for many years but the man’s love for the celluloid era has left the dilapidated building standing. His emotions, memories and nostalgia are only shared by his companion and one-time projectionist, Hari (Arun Guhathakurta). Pranab Das is not a happy man in his family life owing to the bitter relationship with his son, played by Parambrata Chatterjee. The latter doesn’t share his father’s interest in cinema and instead runs a business of pirated DVDs. And this is the root of the father-son conflict as well as the locus of the narrative crisis. Also, this is where the film goes wrong as it tries to present a rather contradictory and somewhat offensive content.
Dealing with the issue of end of the celluloid era and the transition to digital, the film is annoyingly simplistic in its historical awareness or rather the lack of it. Amid all the lament for the standalone theatres going out of business, the film never even mentions or takes into account the forces of market economy. In fact the tendency to equate celluloid with standalone theatres is also a hasty jump to conclusion, to say the least. But the content gets really odious when it attempts to enforce a hierarchical superiority of celluloid over digital. One can also argue that it is a rather counter-intuitive and contradictory stance since Cinemawala itself is shot and projected digitally. But nonetheless it tries to keep a puritan and Brahminical attitude while relegating digital to an early cinema like status, a carnival side show which is cheap entertainment for lower class population and unethical in its very existence. Just like the celluloid-standalone alliance, the film equates digital format with home media and pirated DVDs. And in a mother-of-all-simplistic-leaps, the film holds the pirated DVD market responsible for the failing economic health of the film industry and thus the end of the celluloid era, as if a healthy industry would have ensured the survival of celluloid nicely! Just like everything else in the script, it once again betrays the writer-director’s lack of awareness of the global socio-economic climate or perhaps his inability to evaluate it.
Having said that, this film might just be remembered as Kaushik Ganguly’s finest work where contrary to the prevalent practice, there has been a clear effort towards working with the medium although a silly and gross plot line robs much of its merit. But one of these days there just might be a perfect marriage of form and content to provide the necessary boost to Bengali Cinema. Until then, one waits. And one hopes…
Arup Ratan Samajdar