Cinemawala: The story of dying single screen theatres of Bengal

“চাকায় চাকায় ঘোরে..
কাহিনীর ছায়াবাজি খেলা,
পর্দামগ্ন হয়ে থাকে
অগুনতি চোখে দু’বেলা
ইচ্ছেপুরণে তালি, হাসা-হাসি, অভিমান, গালি,

অথবা বিদায় প্রেমে
রুমাল ভেজা চোখে জল,
আমাদের ছেলেবেলা ফিরিয়ে দাও
সিনেমা হল… সিনেমা হল…”
I straight-away opted for these lines from the film’s title track to begin with, as it echoes the exact relationship of human emotions and cinema.
Cinema and us, is perhaps a symbiosis that has evaded the notions of time, where there is joy and tears.

A place where thousands can be influenced and motivated with the help of just a screen and a projector.
This particular film however tells us a very grave truth in its own way. The story of near extinct single screen theatres.
In an age of multiplexes, visual effects and fancy the simplicity and uniqueness of small screens is highly compromised.

The film revolves around Pranab Das, a veteran film exhibitor and a man passionate to his cause. His passion to film goes to such an extent that he worships the superstars of film industry. His son, a young man who despises his father’s reluctance to embrace modern technology to reopen their closed cinema hall.
The protagonist however is so passionate about his hall that he still visits the hall along with his friend.
Gradually as the plot grows we could see that his son gets into the business of pirated DVDs of films which further increases the tension between this father-son duo. The film ends when Pranab’s only friend commits suicide as they sell out the hall’s analog projectors(citing the end of a generation).
Deluded Pranab Das burns down his cinema hall and himself along with it.
The burning scene reminded me about a similar scene in Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Bastards’ where a cinema hall was burnt to assassinate the Führer. However these two sequences are completely at different poles as one signified the demise of negative while the burning of the hall in ‘Cinemawala’ is more of death of a dream.
The significance of cinema in Bengali culture is paramount. A community that survived famine, underwent the pain of partition were perhaps searching for an ‘escape route’, a distraction to keep their pain at bay and cinema provided that exact ‘escape route’.
Its a very sad statistical data that Bengal now has only around 200 odd single screen cinema halls as compared to 700 when this fraternity started.
In a triumvirate battle between single screen halls, piracy and multiplexes, its was always cinema who lost.
The young generation perhaps fails to catch the emotions behind cinema as they prefer multiplexes and still whine about the overpriced popcorn, the tasteless burgers and the ‘hot-priced’ cold drink. The fine balance between old and new should be tuned and established again. If cinema has to survive, single screen theaters should survive which rise over the tomb of piracy. If entertainment gets to the public at reasonable rate, the entire hierarchy of pirated DVDs would crumble. It’s sad that these halls not only face danger from multiplex and piracy but also from Real estate promoters and still exhibitors like Pranab Das dream, they dream of a hero from real life who would emulate their reel life counterpart to save cinema instead of the heroine.
As when a cinema hall is taken down for any reason, it not only marks the death of dreams but also the death of emotions as well. Cinema always has and will be an integral part of our lives, ranging from the horrors of the sudden appearance of dinosaurs in ‘Jurassic park’ which made us skip a heart beat and hold the hands of our parents, to the excitement of first date and a sudden reunion with old friends that beam of light projected form the projector has more to say than it usually does, digital or analog doesn’t matters what matters is the survival of memories, dreams and above all cinema itself.

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