wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
Gajendra Ahire’s Touring Talkies is an ode to the movies; and a sincere, beautiful one at that. Powered by a tremendous performance by Trupti Bhoir and sheer passion towards cinema, it is the kind of film that needs to be watched; as they say, life is life, and film is film.Read more
“The purest form of cinema is life.” – Anonymous
If there’s one film in recent times that underlines the statement above, it is Gajendra Ahire’s Touring Talkies. An honest, heartfelt and pertinent movie about the movies, Ahire’s latest is the kind of film that can make anyone who loves cinema shed a tear, if only for the sake of their own love for it.
From being a thriving business and the only way cinema was consumed in India commercially in the early 20th century, touring talkies are now all but extinct; alive only in certain pockets of rural India, but barely so. Gajendra Ahire shows us a peek into the lives of those whose livelihoods still depend on setting up makeshift tents and projecting film inside it by night, while leading the existence of nomads by day. He does it by telling us the story of Chandi, a woman of infinite will and energy, in what has unfortunately and unfairly come to become a man’s world.
In showing us Chandi’s journey, Ahire shows us life; he shows us how cinema mirrors society and never the other way around; he shows us that cinema exists even if a camera does not. Because, you see, cinema exists where there is a beating heart and the basest and most primal of emotions, irrespective of the presence or lack of an observer. But Chandi’s life does have an observer, in the form of a filmmaker from Mumbai, who initially enters her life only because he wants his film, acclaimed on the festival circuit, to now be screened at the touring talkies.
The enterprising Chandi is also a bit of a cinema expert, if only in the manner in which she understands the very concept of the fact that life drives it. She understands the art of cinema, as well as the commerce. She seems to understand that even commercial cinema is derived from an art form, and even artistic cinema needs to be sold. And watch how they gently rib one of the big commercial successes of recent times, one that made tons of money despite being as bad as it was. With beautiful little touches, Ahire shows us how much Chandi loves cinema, and in doing so, he reminds us how much we love cinema as well. Touring talkies are dying, and from the looks of it, the Internet may end up killing conventional brick-and-mortar cinema halls as well. But cinema will live on, no matter what.
Yes, the screenplay of the film needed to be tighter, and weightier, if I may say so. It meanders a bit, tends to sag slightly, and does have the odd implausible turn. We also never fully see just why the filmmaker, Avinash, embarks on such an emotionally intense journey with a touring talkie, why he puts his own life on the backburner to be a part of someone else’s. Love for cinema, perhaps; but it needed to be written stronger.
But the maturity with which Gajendra Ahire directs, overshadows the flaws in the writing. In fact, Ahire is easily one of the most mature filmmakers India has currently. The manner in which he frames and composes his shots, what each shot and scene conveys; everything about his filmmaking shows maturity and an understanding of the art and science of cinema. Even technically, the film holds its own. Amol Gole’s cinematography is top notch; the wonderful earthy colour palette brings the frames alive.
Also, hat-off to maestro Ilaiyaraja’s music and background score. Once again, he shows that few understand what a scene needs musically better than him. It is lively and electric when required, and subtly haunting when the need arises. I didn’t particularly understand the need to have English lyrics for songs, but then, it perhaps is reflective of the personality of Avinash – an English-speaking, city-bred filmmaker with almost European sensibilities when it comes to his outlook towards cinema.
The throbbing, pulsating heart of the film is Trupti Bhoir’s performance as Chandi. She sheds her inhibitions, exhibits a look that few female leads in cinema would dare, and pumps in her all into Chandi. She is a livewire, and she literally lives the character. Subodh Bhave as Avinash does well, as always. He does look like a bit of a misfit at times, but his pleasing presence makes up for it. Kishor Kadam and Milind Shinde in supporting roles don’t have much to do, but the two of them always seem to get into the skin of characters they play, which they do here as well.
Quite like how Martin Scorsese’s Hugo was his love letter to the movies, Touring Talkies is for Gajendra Ahire. It is a film that needs to be seen for many reasons, the most important one of them being sheer passion for cinema, and to understand what the sound of the whirring projector means to some of us. Watch Touring Talkies on the big screen, if only to respect that medium which is most disrespected and misused. Perhaps you’ll see why, for some of us, cinema is all about life, and life is all about cinema.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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