I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Touring Talkies. The two itinerant movie theaters we get to know in this delightful documentary call themselves some version of that name, which indicates how long they’ve been a mainstay of Indian culture. As do the decrepit projectors and beat-up prints on rusty reels their proprietors are making do with as The Cinema Travellers opens. With their first film, writer-directors Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya spent several years with Mohammed, whose roaming cinema has a literal carnival atmosphere because he often sets up his tent with the circus; Babu, who shows movies out of the back of a truck so ancient, no longer capable of moving under its own power, that it must be towed by a tractor into position; and Prakash, a repairer of broken-down projectors whose services are no longer in demand.
Their stories of struggling to make a living are a microcosm of how the way entertainment spreads culture has evolved over the decades, and how it is changing with ever-increasing speed today, when even the tiniest, most remote village, which would once have eagerly welcomed the travelling cinema showing years-old movies, is now well equipped with TVs and satellite dishes bringing them all the latest films. The men are weathering the transition with varying degrees of success: while Mohammed excitedly invests in a digital projector, Prakash concedes that he will never have any takers for the new kind of celluloid projector he invented. Yet the rapt faces of those who do still venture into the tents of the Touring Talkies speak to the power of movies. That priests will bless the quiet little digital projectors, anointing them with incense and ash just as they did the clunky old celluloid ones, suggests that cinema may continue to inspire an almost religious fervor in audiences in India (and perhaps elsewhere, too).
The Cinema Travellers won a special jury prize at Cannes in 2016, after which came a long festival run and a slew of awards, and rightly so. This is a marvelous film, so full of the wonder of movies, so melancholy about the changing cinema landscape, so hopeful that though the technology is changing, the love will endure.