The Bioscope is naturally delighted to record the release of Delhi-based K.M. Madhusudhanan‘s feature film Bioscope. The film’s subject is silent film in India. Set in Kerala, it tells of Diwakaran, who in the early years of the twentieth century encounters the Bioscope (a film projector), being operated by a Frenchman. He purchases the machines and tours local villages with his films, but he is beset by problems: practical, social and familial, as modernity clashes with tradition. Madhusudhanan says that his hero is based on a real figure, Varunni Joseph, who ran a Bioscope shows in Kerala in 1907.
Bioscope received its world premiere last week. It is produced by the National Film Development Corporation Ltd., India, it’s 94mins long, and in Malayalam and Tamil, with English subtitles. The film’s website has interesting background information on early film in India and assorted production stills. This article from ExpressIndia.com describes the film and its intentions:
A filmmaker goes in search of the first flicker of cinema in Kerala
Flickering on a white sheet stretched across the wall, the image of a train entering the platform emitted a collective gasp. In 1906, the unsuspecting villagers at Thrissur Pooram in Kerala, who’d bought a ticket to the bioscope show, couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Surely this was the work of the devil. Instead, it was the work of man — the advent of cinema in India. This fascination with cinema and images is what Delhi-based filmmaker K.M. Madhusudhanan has lyrically portrayed in his first feature film, suitably titled Bioscope.
The film saw its worldwide premiere at the Osian’s Cine Fan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema last week and has been awarded the NETPAC Jury Award for “crystallising a turning point in a country’s colonial past with meditative images and a strong metaphor evocative of cinema’s magical powers”.
As an artist, photographer and filmmaker, it was only natural that Madhusudhanan strung together a historical narrative with images that would embody the wonder that is the cinematic experience. “I wanted to show the curiosity of the human gaze through the film. The appearance of the bioscope in Kerala was something that drew me even closer to the subject,” says Madhusudhanan, who spent his formative years in Kerala before moving to Vadodara to study printmaking.
Set in the first decade of the 20th century in Kerala, Bioscope traces the life of Diwakaran, whose life is completely altered after his first brush with the bioscope and moving images. He buys the device from a Frenchman who ran bioscope shows and decides to take the instrument and its wondrous images to nearby villages. But suspicion, superstition and the lack of family support make it difficult for Diwakaran to fulfil his purpose. “I started to work on a project about silent films and early cinema. My research brought me to that time in history when Kerala had its first bioscope show and I found my story emerge from there,” says Madhusudhanan who is also painting an entire series on silent films as well. The entire series consists of 35 paintings in which film reels contain hazy images, and cameras share space with the artist’s imagination.
Funded by the NFDC, the film will soon head to various international festivals and by December, the sequel to the film will go on floor. “Bioscope is the first part of a trilogy. The second part is titled Kannadi Kottaka (Mirror Cinema Hall) and is set in contemporary Kerala. It is about a movie house and three people who are connected to it,” says Madhusudhanan.
It’s getting hard to keep up with the mini-rush of Indian films and books which are taking silent cinema as a theme and the bioscope (the sometime Indian name for a cinema) as redolent term. Probably calls for a round-up post on the subject some time soon.