Prakash Travelling Cinema

Part one

Prakash Travelling Cinema is a delightful short film, posted on YouTube by the filmmaker, Megha B. Lakhani. She made the 14-minute film while at the National Institute of Design, India, and it has gone on to win festival awards.

The film documents two friends who maintain a travelling bioscope show on the streets of Ahmedabad. The ramshackle outfit, which they take around on a hand-cart, comprises a genuine c.1910 Pathé projector, adapted for sound, with peep-holes all around the mobile ‘cinema’ itself (which they call their ‘lorry’), through which children watch snippets plucked from popular Bollywood titles. One of the amazing sights of the film is either of the two men hand-cranking their sound projector at exhausting speed.

Part two

Although they are not showing silent films, the whole enterprise is imbued with the spirit of the original travelling bioscope operators of India, and of course the technology hails from the silent period. The word ‘bioscope’ still persists in places in India for cinema, as it does in South Africa. However, the film wants to do more than show a quaint operation, and it is very much about friendship, conviction, Indian society, and the persistence of a human way of doing things in the face of modern media technologies.

There are an estimated 2,000 mobile cinema shows in India today, and the travelling bioscope has been made the subject of other recent films. There is Andrej Fidyk’s 1998 documentary film Battu’s Bioscope, on a modern travelling show in rural India; Vrinda Kapoor and Nitesh Bhatia’s short film Baarah Mann Ki Dhoban (2007), on modern bioscope workers whch also touches on the history of India film exhibition; and Tim Sternberg’s film Salim Baba (2007), again about a modern travelling bioscope show, this time with an adapted 1897 Bioscope. Plus there’s Tabish Khair’s acclaimed novel Filming, published this year, which moves from a travelling bioscope show in 1929 to the Bombay cinema of the 1940s as a means to examine the rise of modern India. Clearly there’s a metaphor in the air.

Prakash Travelling Cinema was made in 2006, and there’s a full set of credits here. The film is in Hindi, with English subtitles, and on YouTube, owing to its length, it comes in two parts.

The Bioscope.net

The Bioscope meets YouTube

You may have noticed that we have a new address. I don’t mean the Bioscope’s physical location, which of course remains the ivy-clad fastness that is New Bioscope Towers, but rather its web address. After too long a wait, we have finally ditched the annoying ‘bioscopic’ and the WordPress.com and switched the domain to http://thebioscope.net. All old links will still take you to the site as it now is, but I hope it will now be a little clearer who we are and what we’re about. This is all part of a rolling programme of changes to the site to make sure it stays in tip-top shape.

To mark the occasion, a rather odd short video, which comes from a pair of Indian design students, Ashis Panday & Ankkit Modi, who have created a Bioscope for the YouTube age. As regulars will know, we are interested in the Bioscopes still to be found in India (and in other Asian countries, I am given to understand) which tour from town to town supplying peepshow views of film clips for children. One or two of these shows, which are managed by itinerant bioscopewallahs, feature original film projectors from the 1900s. This art work (or part of an art work) has taken YouTube videos and stitched them together in a random sequence. The video doesn’t really make it clear what is happening, but we like the concept even if the actuality may be lacking.

For earlier posts on bioscopewallahs, see Salim Baba – https://thebioscope.net/2010/09/07/salim-baba/, Prakash Travelling Cinema – https://thebioscope.net/2007/08/26/prakash-travelling-cinema/ and The Last Bioscopewallah – https://thebioscope.net/2009/09/16/the-last-bioscopewallah/.

Salim Baba

From time to time I’ve been posting on the bioscope tradition in India and the delightful examples of the handful who preserve the tradition of the travelling bioscope showmen or bioscopewallahs by taking film projectors – sometimes of great age – into the streets to show film clips to audiences of eager children.

This phenomenon has been picked up on by a number of filmmakers, as noted in an earlier post about the bioscopewallahs. Some of these videos are available online, and we have already posted the wonderful Prakash Travelling Cinema about a man who tours the streets of Ahmedabad operating a c.1910 Pathé projector, handcranked but adapted for sound.

Children crowding round the street projector, from Salim Baba

Now another of the films has been published online, Salim Baba, a 15-minute documentary by Tim Sternberg, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 in the best short documentary category. It’s about as good a short film as you could hope to find – not startling in any way, just immaculately observant. It tells of 55-year-old Salim Muhammad, who lives in Kolkata and pushes round a small cart with a hand-cranked, customised projector of venerable age (one source says it is an 1897 Bioscope, another says that it is Japanese in origin). Again it has been adapted for sound, and he shows shows snippets of Bollywood songs and action sequences for a gaggle of excited children who crowd round the cart and pop their heads under a curtain to view the blurred and colour faded images. Salim inherited the tradition from his father, who used the same projector from the silent era onwards, and he is now passing it on to his sons. The love of cinema – its contents, its technology and its effect on people – fills the film. Do take a look.

A previous Bioscope post, The last bioscopewallah, tells Salim Muhammad’s story in greater detail.

Acknowledgments to the Documentary Blog where I found the link to the film.

The last bioscopewallah

salim

Mohammad Salim with his 100-year-old projector, from http://www.littleindia.com

We have written here before on the tradition of the travelling bioscope in India, film shows put on by men journeying from town to town with projector in a hand cart, some of whom work with equipment dating back to the early cinema period.

The subject has interested a number of filmmakers. There is K.M. Madhusudhanan’s feature film Bioscope, The Bioscopewallah by Prashant Kadam, Megha B. Lakhani’s Prakash Travelling Cinema (available in two parts on YouTube), Andrej Fidyk’s Battu’s Bioscope, Vrinda Kapoor and Nitesh Bhatia’s Baarah Mann Ki Dhoban and Salim Baba by Americans Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2008.

An article by Nilanjana Bhowmick on the man featured in that last film has turned up on Little India (an Indian newspaper published in the USA). Entitled ‘The last bioscopewallah’, its subject is Mohammed Salim, who tours Kolkata with his 100-year-old projector (apparently Japanese in origin) on a cart, accompanied by his reluctant son. It’s an evocative piece of writing, depicting a decades-old form of street entertainment that just about hangs on in the age of the iPod and the DVD, sustained by the belief of the bioscopewallah in the magic of literally bringing cinema to the people. These are a few choice paragraphs:

Bioscopewallah……bioscopewallah ayah….aao, dekho,nai purani filme sirf ek rupiya. (Here comes the Bioscopewallah, come and watch new and old films for just Re 1).

The throw-back cry from the 1960s and 1970s of Indian street vendors trying to lure children and adults to the magic of movies in a box still reverberates in the serpentine bylanes of Kolkata, mingled with the smell of moss and decay. The cry might not have the same verve, nor perhaps does it elicit the earlier enthusiasm. But it still attracts curious onlookers who crowd around as the last bioscopewallah of Kolkata sets up his shop near a school or a movie theater.

Children rush to his cart, clutching a rupee coin in their hands. Some older people might still remember the voyeuristic feeling of peek-a-boo cinema under the shade of the ominously grave-looking black cloth, but most have either forgotten or never experienced the charm of the movie in the wooden box.

Mohammad Salim, with his 100-year-old projector, is a relic from a forgotten era. He roams the streets of Kolkata, letting people experience in short bursts the often surreal world of the bioscope.

Salim’s voice has become weaker with age, but the enthusiasm remains undimmed. He is the thin string that binds Kolkata with its glorious past to the beginning of cinema — the Royal Bioscope Company, India’s first bioscope company. Salim is not only oblivious to the legacy he has carried on his shoulders for decades now, but he is equally nonchalant about his brush with international fame, which includes an Oscar nominated documentary on his life. He only understands his bioscope and beyond it everything else pales.

Salim’s journey on the Kolkata streets with his bioscope began more than 40 years ago. In his late fifties, he laboriously pushes along his archaic projector on a hand driven cart. These days often he is accompanied by one of his unwilling sons, for whom the bioscope holds no magic. Sometimes he is mistaken for an ice cream vendor, most times he is ignored. In this digital age, the wooden bioscope holds no attraction and Salim cuts a lone figure as he wanders from one street to another. However, as he sets shop and Bollywood music and dialogs burst forth from his bioscope, a small crowd gathers around him; a crowd that wants to lose itself in the garish, colorful, melodramatic and musical world of Bollywood movies. The glamour, thrill, drama and dreams of Bollywood are packed into three-four minutes of trailers that transport the viewer into a makeshift world of the movies — short lived, but an escape from the real world nevertheless …

… In the 1960s and 1970s the call of the bioscopewallah was eagerly awaited in the neighborhoods of Kolkata. However in this age of television and computers, the bioscope is as antiquated as the term itself. Salim recalls the golden days when his father’s bioscope ruled the roost: “When my father used to call out, people used to come rushing out of their houses, especially children and women. They used to stand in the balcony for hours in order to catch the bioscopewallah.”

Salim started with his father when aged just twelve. In those days there were many other bioscopewallahs, all of whom showed only silent films. To keep up with the times, Salim has had to adapt to sound, showing scraps of films that highlight songs, dances and fights.

Salim survives in an age dominated by iPods and DVDs by updating his equipment to keep pace with the modern age. His passion with the bioscope led him to experiment with it and add new features. The original bioscope had no provision for sound so Salim, realizing he will lose his audiences if he failed to add it to his trailers, acquired sound.

“I love my projector and the fact that this small box contains all the wonders of a cinema hall. And I told myself, there must be a way to put sound too! I went to the cinema halls and asked people about how they put the sound on the lip movements. We tried to replicate that in my projector and succeeded. It was because I went with the times that I have been able to keep this alive. If there was no sound, no one would have watched it anymore.” …

… The era of the bioscope will likely end with Salim. His sons are not interested in carrying forward the tradition of their father and grandfather. They are young men who have come of age in the digital era of mobile phones and computer games.

Salim is philosophical about his plight and the future of his craft. He insists he is not driven by money, otherwise he would have sold the projector — an antique piece — by now. “I have had offers from abroad to sell my bioscope, I have said no. It is the heritage of my country, why should I sell it to another country?”

It’s a delightful piece well worth reading in its entirety. Not exactly silent films, but definitely in their spirit.

Far, far away

Further information has been made about about Stummfilmmusiktage, the German festival of silent film and music, which takes place in the Markgrafentheater, Erlangen, 24-27 January. This email has just been sent out by the festival:

Dear friends of the silent screen,

It’s been a while since you heard from us, but the 2008 programme of StummFilmMusikTage Erlangen is finally rock solid and pre-sale tickets are available (please note: If you are considering acquiring tickets from outside Germany, please write to asynchron@stummfilmmusiktage.de and we will help you reserve the tickets you want). Our main theme for the 2008 festival will be Far, Far Away with films focussing on the rich silent film heritage of Asia, but also on Western conceptions of Asia and the exotic.

Please note that there have been a few changes in our programme since we first published it in October. This year’s films will take you to the South Seas, Japan, Mongolia, Siam, India, Chinatown L.A., the Limehouse district in London, and… to the moon.

The programme now goes like this:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

7 p.m.
Vernissage
Japanese Film Actresses in Silent Era

in cooperation with The National Film Center, Tokyo

Introduction: Mariann Lewinsky
Autor of the book Die verrückte Seite

Venue: SiemensForum Erlangen
Werner-von-Siemens-Str. 50

20:30 p.m.
What Made Her Do It? (Nani ga kanojo o sô saseta ka)
Japan 1930, 83 min
directed by: Shigeyoshi Suzuki
score: Günter Buchwald
performed by: Erlanger Musikinstitut

Venue: Vortragssaal der Siemens AG
Werner-von-Siemens-Str. 50

Friday, January 25, 2008

6 p.m.
Introduction: Storm Over Asia
with Nina Goslar (ZDF/ARTE), Bernd Schultheis (composer), Vera Zvetajeva (Cine-Club, Vladimir)

7 p.m.
Storm Over Asia (Potomok Chengiskhan)
Soviet Union 1925, 130 min
directed by: Wsewolod Pudowkin
score (world premiere): Bernd Schultheis
performed by: Ensemble Kontraste
conductor: Frank Strobel

coporoduction with
ZDF/ARTE and Ensemble Kontraste

9 p.m.
Introduction: Silent Film in Japan
Günter Buchwald

10 p.m.
Express 300 Miles (Tokkyu Sanbyaku Ri)
Japan 1929, 84 min
directed by: Genjiro Saegusa
score and performance: Günter Buchwald

Saturday, January 26, 2008

4 p.m.
Georges Méliès Short Film Programme
France 1896-1911, 60 min
directed by: Georges Méliès
score and performance:
Yogo Pausch

6 p.m.
Introduction Tabu: film and score
Violeta Dinescu (composer)

7 p.m.
Tabu
USA 1925, 84 min
directed by: F.W. Murnau
score: Violeta Dinescu
performed by: Ensemble Kontraste
conductor: Frank Strobel

9 p.m.
Merian C. Cooper – Life as Adventure
A conversation with Kevin Brownlow

10 p.m.
Chang
USA 1927, 69 min
directed by: Merian C. Cooper
score and performance:
Hildegard Pohl (piano), Yogo Pausch (percussion)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

11 p.m.
The Light of Asia
India/D 1925, 97 min
directed by: Franz Osten
score and performance: Om Prakash Pandey (Tabla), Henning Kirmse (Sitar)

13 p.m.
Slapstick-Lunch
Enjoy a delicious three-course Asian lunch. We’ll serve slapstick highlights on the side.
A reduced combi ticket for the screening of The Light of Asia and the three-course lunch is available.

4 p.m.
The Cameraman
USA 1925, 75 min
directed by: Buster Keaton
score and performance: Helmut Nieberle Quartet

6 p.m.
Anna May Wong
A reading by actors Heike Thiem-Schneider and Thomas Lang

7 p.m.
Piccadilly
GB 1928, 110 min
directed by: E.A. Dupont
Score: Frieder Egri, Roman Rothen
performed by: Frieder Egri & Ensemble

I like the idea of a slapstick lunch. Presumably custard pies for dessert. Further details as always from the festival web site.

StummFilmMusikTage

Yogoto No Nume

Yogoto No Nume (1933), from http://www.stummfilmmusiktage.de

StummFilmMusikTage, the German silent film festival which makes a special feature of the musical accompaniments, takes place in the Markgrafentheater, Erlangen, 24-27 January 2008. The festival site is in German and English, but the latter does not have the programme details as yet. So here are the details of the films being shown:

Thursday 24 January

Yogoto No Yume (Every Night Dreams) (Japan 1933, d. Mikio Naruse)
Music and performance: Yogo Pausch

Friday 25 January

Potomok Chingis Khana (Storm over Asia) (USSR 1925, d. Vsevolod Pudovkin)
Music: Bernd Schultheis, performed by the Ensemble Kontraste, conductor Frank Strobel

Nani ga kanojo o sô saseta ka (What Made Her Do It?) (Japan 1930, d. Shigeyoshi Suzuki)
Music: Günter Buchwald, performed by the Erlanger Musikinstitut

Saturday 26 January

Kongen af Pelikanien (Pat and Patachon in Pelikanien) (Denmark 1928, d. Lau Lauritzen)
Music and performance: Yogo Pausch

Tabu (USA 1925, d. F.W. Murnau)
Music: Violeta Dinescu, performed by the Ensemble Kontraste, conductor Frank Strobel

Chang (USA 1927, d. Merian C. Cooper)
Music and performance: Günter Buchwald & Ensemble

Sunday 27 January

The Light of Asia (India/Germany 1925, d. Franz Osten)
Music and performance: Om Prakash Pandey (Tabla), Henning Kirmse (Sitar)

The Cameraman (USA 1925, d. Buster Keaton)
Music and performance: Karsten Gnettner, Helmut Nieberle, Bob Rückert

Piccadilly (GB 1928, d. E.A. Dupont)
Music: Frieder Egri, Roman Rothen, performed by Frieder Egri & Ensemble

A strong line-up indeed, and there are introductory presentations to several of the screenings as well. The Markgrafentheater is an attraction in itself, Germany’s oldest Baroque theatre still in use. It was built in 1719, and provides a stunning setting for the annual silent film festival. Advance booking starts on 15 December (details on both English and German versions of the site).

Update: A revised programme has now been published (January 2008). See this updated post for details.