The Cinema Travellers

 

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An affectionate requiem for those who brought cinema to audiences in rural India.

 
Cinema Travellers, The
  

The title of this film refers to a handful of men still valiantly trying to maintain an old tradition, that of bringing cinema to villages in India, and doing so in spite of the fact that audiences are declining. Made by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, The Cinema Travellers was clearly born of their own love of cinema and the concept behind it, the wish to pay tribute while there is still time, is likely to appeal greatly to many a film buff. Further encouragement to embrace this film comes from the fact that it has won a whole sheaf of awards including a Special Jury Prize at Cannes. Yet, in spite of that and regardless of the very fine colour photography by Madheshiya himself, this was a film that left me disappointed. It could be that this is a matter of taste.

 

It appears that The Cinema Travellers was developed over some seven years and, filmed in 2015, it gives prominence to three men: Bapu, Mohammed and Prakesh. Bapu runs Akshay Touring Pictures and shows films in a tent while his decrepit lorry carries his projector and reels of film. In contrast, Mohammed of Sumedh Touring Pictures sets up his shows in a fairground. As for Prakash, he is a man who has devoted his life to repairing projectors and has been encouraged by that experience to create a new-style one himself. Of these three, it is Prakash who has the most to say, presumably in answer to questions put to him by the filmmakers although we don’t see or indeed hear them.

 

This is a film that eschews any commentary and rarely provides any detailed context. Only outside sources tell me that the area seen is Maharashta in Western India and I have no idea how typical or atypical it is of the country in having these travelling film shows. Furthermore, what we learn about these three men is limited however apparent their love of cinema is and the film seems arbitrary as it moves from footage of one to scenes featuring the others. The film does choose to end on the last show of the season in the village of Ond and this incorporates the second of two admirable montage sequences showing the faces of viewers absorbed in what they are watching. Nevertheless, there is little sense of the work being shaped meaningfully.

 

Anyone interested in projectors will have a field day (rarely have so many featured in a film) but, even though the images are splendidly vivid and atmospheric, I wanted more than this general indication of a service no longer surviving without a struggle, more detail about the way in which modern technology and the availability of film on digital has in some respects aided but in others has harmed since home viewing means that it is now mainly children who still love the travelling cinema.

 

For me then this subject matter called for more specific information and better shaping. Nevertheless, the sympathy that the filmmakers have for their subject is undeniable and audiences content to feed off the visuals and to build up their own impressions rather than to regret the absence of an effective structure will respond far more positively than I did. I was doubtless influenced by having such high expectations of the film and The Cinema Travellers is in any case a valuable document for recording an aspect of cinema history in India which after seven decades look to be coming to an end.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Prakash, Bapu and Mohammed.

 

Dir Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, Pro Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, Ph Amit Madheshiya, Ed Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham, Music Laura Karpman and Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum.

 
Cave Pictures-DocHouse.
96 mins. India. 2016. Rel: 26 January 2018. No Cert.