Wednesday, June 16

Kolkata: For bioscopewallah, his 45-year-old show must go on in smartphone age

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It’s the story of the fading magic of street cinema. And protagonists like Mohammad Salim, hawking celluloid dream to children across the city for the last 45 years, are increasingly finding it difficult to run the show.

The 67-year-old has been a protagonist in a documentary shot on him more than a decade ago. The short film by US filmmaker Tim Sternberg was nominated for the Oscars in 2008. Those days, Salim was covered in international magazines and the BBC as well.

Now it’s a pain pushing the cart carrying the hand-cranked film projector that spun many stories once upon a time. “I don’t even have the money for servicing the century-old machine,” the ailing “bioscopewallah” said. “A foreigner had offered to buy the projector for Rs 5 lakh. I refused. The machine was too precious. I also wanted to save the dying art of street cinema,” Salim said, speaking to TOI inside a decrepit structure behind Mahajati Sadan in central Kolkata.

Carefully organizing reels of old Hindi films in box, he recalled, “We would buy rejected film prints for Rs 5 a kg from a market at Murgighata in the BBD Bag area. We cut scenes and composed our own short movies.”

Sitting across the room, on a concrete bed that doubled up as the family dining table were his son Md Waris (18) and grandson Zain (3). They were busy watching a Bollywood flick on a smartphone.

Peering at Salim’s “productions”, through small cylindrical holes is a passe. Kids don’t look forward to the “bioscopewallahs” walking through their para, pushing the “magic” cart anymore. Nor are they interested in those five-minute flicks starring Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Hema Malini or Amitabh Bachchan in exchange of a rupee coin. “It’s difficult wooing children to watch my ‘handmade’ collage. They have more real entertainment in their smart phones,” Salim sighed, adding, “I do get lucky at times, when a little boy or a girl stops by, out of sheer curiosity. Sustaining their interest is not easy.”

The dingy room on the first floor has withstood the bruises of time. It has sheltered Salim, his wife, four sons and two daughters (now married off) for last 50 years. Everyone in the family knows how to operate the projector. Salim has improvised on it by adding audio element. “Earlier, we managed with my husband’s earnings from the bioscope. But now, even after hiking the ticket price to Rs 2 a ‘show’, there’s no money,” wife Shahjana Begum said softly.

Ailing and infirm, Salim ventures outdoors only on occasions like Durga Puja, Rathayatra, Eid and Kali Puja. “Isn’t there anybody willing to sponsor Kolkata’s only surviving bioscopewallah?” son Md Waris asked.


Source: Times of India

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