Film: Bioscopewala

Director: Deb Medhekar

Cast: Danny Denzongpa, Geetanjali Thapa, Adil Hussain and Tisca Chopra

Rating: ***1/2

The last time I saw the grossly underused Danny Denzongpa in a central role, it was in the Bengali film “Lal Kuthi”. Danny was a powerhouse of volcanic eruptions in this forgotten film.

Significantly, “Bioscopewala”, which blessedly offers Danny a chance to be at the helm, is all about regret, guilt, almost-forgotten memories and the magical power of nostalgia to invoke the purest form of desire which comes only to those who know how to give unconditional love.

Straightaway, “Bioscopewala” lodges itself into the recesses of our parched hearts. With its artless, freewheeling audacious adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s deeply moving story “Kabuliwala”, the film sets up a wistful picture-perfect world of regret and heartbreak.

The fragility and yet the miraculous permanence of a relationship that grows between an Afghani migrant Rehmat Khan (Danny Denzongpa) and a little girl Minnie (played by the wonder Miraya Suri) recalls Ashok Kumar and Sarika in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Aashirwad”.

I was afraid of what the relationship would look like in the present-day context of sexual predators stalking every corner of India. It was a different world when the great Balraj Sahni befriended and bonded with little Minnie in Bimal Roy’s “Kabuliwala”.

But an aging Afghani man bonding with a 5-year-old girl in the 1990s?

First-time director Deb Medhekar tears through all cynical readings of Tagore’s classic story to tell us that the age of innocence is never over. There is always room for compassion and camaraderie, no matter how low the moral aspirations of a civilisation falls.

Medhekar, in a script co-written with Radhika Anand, secretes tenderness and empathy in every frame. Every moment is magical, every tear drop worth treasuring. A sizable portion of the film’s aesthetic astuteness is attributable to Rafey Mehmood’s cinematography.

Mehmood makes every frame a vista of reined-in emotions. There is certain restrain and temperance in the storytelling, rarely seen in films about human relationships.

Here is a film that is as beautiful in feeling as it is in appearance. And no small gratitude for this gem of a treat to the performers.

Seasoned actors Tisca Chopra, Adil Hussain and Geetanjali Thapa pitch in with fluent performances. But it is Danny who stands tall in a role immortalised by Balraj Sahni. He is at once virile and emotional, child and man, yin and yang. He sweeps the character’s innerworld into his own persona to render a character that Balraj Sahni and Bimal Roy would have recognised.

As for Rabindranath Tagore, I can see him being a bit confused by the liberties taken with his story. But then life as well as art is subject to constant re-interpretations. Who knew this better than Tagore?