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‘Bioscopewala’ film review: This father-daughter saga has its moments

Deb Medhekar directs Danny Denzongpa, Geetanjali Thapa and Adil Hussain in a reworking of Rabindranath Tagore’s classic story ‘Kabuliwala’.

Father-daughter relationships are at the core of Deb Medhekar’s Bioscopewala, an update on Rabindranath Tagore’s popular short story Kabuliwala. The original tale is about a migrant Afghan dry fruit seller who forms a bond with a young Bengali girl because she reminds him of his daughter. Walnuts and almonds have been swapped for a cranked-up bioscope in this latest film adaptation, which takes the original story in new, and sometimes interesting, directions.

Danny Denzongpa plays Rehmat Khan, the bioscope operator who warms to Minnie because she is the same age as the five-year-old daughter he has left behind in Afghanistan. Rehmat has fled his country because it has been overrun by the fundamentalist Taliban, who burn down his cinema and force him into an itinerant life.

Years later, Minnie (Geetanjali Thapa) is a film student in Paris, far away from her Kolkata life and her fashion photographer father, Robi (Adil Hussain), and finally ready to investigate Rehmat’s whereabouts and the fate of his beloved daughter.

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Bioscopewala (2018).

Deb Medhekar’s film, based on a story idea and screenplay by Sunil Doshi, has some smart ideas and some unexplored ones. Chief among the better concepts is the dance between remembering and forgetting – Minnie needs to both remember her past, which includes a frayed relationship with her father, as well as prevent the aging Rehmat from entirely losing his memories.

There is also the subtle connection made between local filmmaking traditions and Afghanistan, where Indian movies have been hugely popular. Danny Denzongpa’s casting is hardly a coincidence: he has played Afghan characters in the past, and he serves as a totemic presence to remind viewers of gentler, more tolerant times.

Minnie’s quest to unravel the Rehmat mystery includes several cliche-ridden moments – pulling old files from drawers, meeting other Afghans in Kolkata (including a character played by Tisca Chopra), and furrowing her brow at periodic intervals. Minnie’s amateur detective work isn’t actually as interesting as Rehmat’s back story, which could have been an attempt to excavate the history of Afghans in Kolkata. There are traces of how the Afghans get by in the Bengali city – the women participate in underground boxing matches, for one thing. But the movie doesn’t explore this subculture with any curiosity or depth, and barely manages to provide a working portrait of how Afghans actually operate in Kolkata.

The restrained emotional saga wraps in a crisp 95 minutes, with a bit too much about Minnie, and not enough about the beloved figure from her (and our) childhood. Afghanistan, to which Minnie travels to find the last piece of the Rehmat puzzle, is deftly recreated in Ladakh. Medhekar gets solid performances out of his ensemble cast, which includes a sweet cameo by Brijendra Kala as Rabi’s loyal domestic worker.

Geetanjali Thapa in Bioscopewala. Image credit: Handmade Films.
Geetanjali Thapa in Bioscopewala. Image credit: Handmade Films.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.