Traveling Cinemas/ Bioscopes in India

Dev Benegal’s (2009) Road, Movie is only the latest addition to a number of films that have been produced over the last decade and a half around the world. For some reasons, there is a renewed focus on a practice that has been in existence since the beginning of cinema, now being revived in all corners of the world. As one takes a panoramic look at these films, it is clear that there are quite a few from India. This does not seem to be only a numerical advantage but also an indication of how traveling cinema figures in the larger imagination of the people as well as a gesture of enriching this reflective moment on the condition of cinema. First, let us take the count of the films that seem to be around, some directly accessible and some mentioned elsewhere in discussion on this topic. Each film is in part a eulogy to cinema that is no longer with us or one that is passing in front of our eyes. There are some valiant souls in different corners of the world keeping it alive in their own ways. Megha Lakhani’s Prakash Traveling Cinema (2006) is available in two parts on You Tube. A graduate of the National Institute of Design, Lakhani captures the story of two friends, who work almost like a “couple,” synchronizing their moods and skills in running a Pathé projector mounted on a four wheeled street cart that runs on the streets of Ahmadabad. In a true spirit of adaptable artisanship to distinct to the country, they have added sound to the projector and created a small theater around the cart with “windows” cut through the cloth. They show short clips, put together in bricolage that makes them artists in their own right. For those of[…..]
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Road, Movie (2009), A Reappraisal

Watching Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie (2009) aroused a number of issues, questions, doubts and mixed responses from admiration to dismay. In some ways, that must be considered a compliment. The film is finally available on DVD and a reappraisal is in order. Here is the first irony about the film; were it not for the DVD and portable technologies, our access to the lives of traveling film theaters, film projectionists and the years past would be limited. In any case, our thoughts begin with this film and move on to the larger issues of cinema itself. When you are watching the film with some distance from its theatrical and film festival release (Tribecca and TIFF, for example), it is inevitable to also see the film through the filter of its reception. As we know now, it was received positively, even with a brief, positive review in the Los Angeles Times and similar praise elsewhere. Generally, it is touted as a film of “self-discovery” for the central character of Vishnu, who, tired of his father’s dying business of selling foul-smelling but apparently miraculous hair oil, takes on the task of driving a van-truck across to the sea shore. This is no ordinary van-truck; it has film projector in it and works as a mobile theater for the rural areas. Vishnu is a “city-boy,” full of presumptuous attitude toward the magical and practical, political and rural. He picks up three interesting characters in his road journey to discover at the end of the film that he can indeed revive the business of selling hair oil. He has finally found his mojo in the business he inherits from his father. The varied allusions the director offers to a host of issues on the road make this journey intriguing.  There is water shortage in[…..]
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