Through the Bioscope

Watching Bioscopewala felt like watching an unfamiliar but familiar dream manifesting itself: a conversation between Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and Mini from Kabuliwalah. The loose adaptation of Tagore’s beautiful short story easily tops my chart of favourite films, of films with a heart, and of films that leave you thinking for days to come.
Most of those who have read Kabuliwala would attest to the silent presence of grief woven with longing, that looms large in the story. In Bioscopewala, you’re meeting that grief right from the word go. The movie makes no qualms about presenting its urgency in conveying the power and value of filial bonds — built both, by blood, and water. An estranged father and an estranged daughter. A father who lost his daughter to time. A father who lost his daughter to war. A father longing for his daughter and a daughter longing for her father who find what they are looking for in each other. We see this longing, slipping in an out of the eyes of each character.
To Minnie, Robi Basu was a father in absentia, a father who sternly carted her out of his workspace, a father whose sacrifices to ensure her upbringing arrive as news that’s a bit too late. To Robi Basu, his daughter’s safety is key — so much so that his discernment of innocence takes a backseat and realization dawns like news that’s a bit too late. Atonement remains an unpaid price, even as his journey towards it is brutally cut short. And silently, he seeks through his daughter, to finish what he began. To Rehmat Khan, home was a memory, a five year old daughter was reduced to a pair of hands imprinted on a fading piece of cloth, and a “baby jaan” was the lone symbol of hope that kept him alive as he sat in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
Through the film, the unmistakably imposing presence of Harper Lee’s magnum opus comes alive. One man is wronged, over and over and over. Save for himself and two women, no one knows he is innocent, and no one wants to accept it, either. One woman is silenced. One woman chooses silence. He remembers his innocence, until his own memory fails him, and he falls prey to Alzheimer’s. When he returns to get a glimpse of what keeps him alive — a wispy memory of a little five year old who treasured him and his many stories through his bioscope through her childhood — the father of the child buys into his guilt, and spots his innocence when the police arrives to take him away. When the father discovers he must “do right by the man who gave so much” to his daughter and him, petition after petition is filed relentlessly, and the innocent man walks out of jail a free man — but ironically, a prisoner of his own mind. Trapped within, with no memory whatsoever.
Minnie returns after a plane crash kills her father — and unwittingly walks into the very task her father had set out to do: righting the wrong, by seeking to deliver the innocent man back to Kabul: his Home.
Scenes of the underbellies of Calcutta turn into war-torn Kabul as Mini strives to find Rehmat’s family so he can live out the rest of his life with them, amidst them. Mini walks through the skeletal remains of Rehmat Khan’s past. It irks you somewhere when the tears begin to fall, that perhaps Rehmat’s mind is frozen around these parts, looking like a painful cadaver of what was, and what could have been. A painful truth surfaces. Mini’s trip may have been futile in terms of what she wanted to do, but it firms up what she needed to do. And so, she returns Home, with a friend of hers documenting things so silently that you barely notice what he’s trying to do. When they present Rehmat the Home that he holds so sacred, it’s a real pity you can’t see anything, because you’re weeping uncontrollably.
The most important thought in the film remains the meaning of “Home.” It isn’t a place. It isn’t a city. It isn’t a country. Home is in the hearts of those that welcome us, of those that close the door once in a while but open it wider to let us back in with love.