For a long time, bioscopes have been a part of India’s bustling landscape, an aspect of childhood that came and went as bioscopewallahs travelled through the country. Bioscopes are an early movie projector taking the form of a wooden box, the interior of which has pictures that can be viewed through four circular holes. Bioscopewallahs are the people who would make their living by them, setting up temporarily and offering them as entertainment to children. When Prashant Kadam found out about Rau, one of the few people who still make their living through the bioscope, he decided that this fading form of what he argues is performance art needs to be documented and remembered.
In the lead up to the free screening of his film The Bioscopewallah alongside Painted Nation, Prashant answered our questions about making the documentary. The film screens this Thursday, July 21 at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with the director and producer of Painted Nation, and of course Prashant will be there available to answer questions as well.
What role do you think bioscopewallahs have played in the history of film?
Before television became popular in India there were very few sources of entertainment for children. There were hardly any films made for children. The bioscopewallahs perhaps filled that void and almost every adult now in India remembers them. It was perhaps the novelty of the photographs inside the Bioscope and the way the bioscopewallahs presented those pictures that enchanted the children the most. Interestingly, the majority of the pictures inside of the Bioscope are of popular cinema actors and actresses. Being exposed to the enchantment of ‘watching cinema’ at an early age and getting exposed to this ‘cinematic experience’—albeit a very short one—may have created a certain awareness and curiosity for cinema in general. The bioscopewallahs were very popular and performed all over the country. I believe that they may have been a catalyst in making the medium of cinema so popular in India, which is home to the largest movie watching phenomena in the world.
What was Rau’s reaction when you told him you wanted to make a documentary about him?
He is a very simple and humble human being. He was just glad that a documentary was being made. I shall forever be in debt to his enchanting performance.
Why do you think it is important to tell the story of this bioscopewallah?
I strongly believe that the bioscopewallahs performed a significant social and cultural role, just as any other performing artist does. It is very unfortunate that society in general has failed to recognize them as performing artists. There are numerous stories/books/documentaries/films depicting various ‘classical’ forms of performances, be it song or dance. However these ‘classical’ arts were generally performed to entertain the Rajas and Nawabs. It is not until recently that the folk-arts and culture has been given attention. The idea of making a documentary on the bioscopewallahs was also brushed aside by an ‘established’ media educator in India whom I attempted to consult during the research phase of my project. Even within folk culture there are numerous elements that need to be simply documented for archival and historic purpose. The story of the bioscopewallah therefore may stand to represent the way in which they generally performed their show. How and where they lived. However due to the implicit nature of most visual media, the short film also opens a number of questions that an inquisitive mind may want to research further. My reason for making the film was more nostalgic in nature with a hope to make a visual document before it vanished without any historiography.