A Bicycle Thief in 24 Parganas

Culture and Media

An article in The Telegraph (thanks Diditi) highlights a film club that screens films in villages. Rather patronizingly titled, Reaching Ray to the Masses, it says:

It all started in 2002 when we were working on a project in Amragachhi. We found that the villagers suffered an inferiority complex from watching the larger-than-life presentation in mainstream Hindi and Bengali films. So, we decided to screen films like Meghe Dhaka Tara, Pather Panchali, Bicycle Thieves, 400 Blows, Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen and Bari Theke Paliye. They liked the films immediately as they could connect with the rawness of life,” says Chiranjeeb Mukherjee, who with three others formed Drishya to reach a different kind of reel magic to villagers.

The club has grown from four members to seventy, with screenings being expanded to other places in the country. Sadly, they show films on VCD.

There used to be many traveling film exhibition companies all over India. Photographer Jonathan Torgovnik documented one of the last remaining ones in Maharashtra in his book, Bollywood Dreams. A really wonderful book of photographs about other aspects of the industry as well. These companies were commercial ventures with ancient 35 mm projectors, they would go to where the audience was, set up a screen and show a movie. When I was in school, that is how films used to be shown to us. Mr. Movie Man (we actually called him that) would come with a projector and usually an ancient Tarzan movie. We would re-arrange our chairs, and take down the partition between the classrooms, the school was in the stables of the country house of one the local princely families, so if we wanted an assembly hall indoors, we had to re-arrange the partitions and move the desks out of the way. Once we were set up, the film would be introduced, the principle would tell us to behave and the movie would start. Once, by mistake, Mr. Movie Man put in a French film, it was fading and probably from 1960. It wasn’t anything special. A woman in a long coat and sunglasses walked into a beach cabin. She sat there, and then a man came in. And he kissed her, on the mouth! After that first kiss, there was either deadly silence or a collective gasp, then the lady took off her clothes, not all of them, but enough for the film to be stopped and reel yanked out. Then we were back to seeing savages” and a full grown man leaping through trees, something much more salubrious for our tender psyches.

A few years later, the film projector was gone and replaced with a VCR, and by that time I was gone from the lovely grade school I had attended into the Convent. And that is how I first saw the The Evil Dead,” on the feast day of the patron saint of our house.