Bioscope (2008) Movie Review
K M Madhusudhanan`s debut Malayalam film set in a small village in Kerala in the 1920s. Diwakaran on one of his visits to Puducherry happens to witness a wonder called bioscope. In a makeshift tent the projector unspools images on a screen that are life like although they do not talk. Du Pont the man behind the show suddenly falls ill and sells the novelty to Diwakaran who has already developed a taste for leather puppetry. Diwakaran`s wife Nalini is bedridden with illness. Her real problem is not one of physical health but a traumatic experience in her childhood of having seen a white man`s body washed ashore. Diwakaran`s shows draw addictive crowds who wonder how the moving images could have been made in the first place. Women gossiping in the interiors of the house conclude that the images are our own that would linger in the world after our demise. A witchcraft priest is summoned and after tracing a demon on the floor with bright colours he hands out the recipe that would cure Nalini. The bioscope should be disposed of with immediate effect. Diwakaran meekly argues to his resplendent father who insists on its removal that the machine was not really responsible for his wife`s ill health as she is suffering even prior to the arrival of bioscope. But before he could act on the order of his father Nalini dies. Diwakaran himself becomes suspicious of the magic machine and throws it into the sea. A young boy asks Diwakaran the fate of the bioscope to which he points to the sea with the evening sun overhead.
Madhusudhanan has chosen a benighted village in Kerala that neither sympathises with the nationalist movement of the times nor exhibiting love for a technological innovation. When ayurveda fails.people take a call from the witch doctor who orders a piece of science to be jettisoned. The film has minimal dialogues and minimal acting. White man is always scary. His carcass has shocked the girl earlier and now the machine invented by a white has struck her death knell. Madhusudhanan despite baring the pessimistic attitude of the villagers also shows their amibivalence to cinema. People continue to like it even as they call it evil, the twin aspects which continue to dominate our attitude to cinema to this day. In our country few filmmakers have chosen to narrate the response of our people during the arrival of cinema as Madhu and when you judge the film in that perspective you end up with appreciation. M J Radhakrishnan`s exquisite camera work makes the past ethereal. The film has won many Indian and International awards. NFDC the producer of the film has released its DVD. The film has the duration of ninety four minutes. The pace of the narrative is in consonance with the established practices of Malayalam art cinema..
It is said the film arose out of a book by the filmmaker who took a real life story.We do not know the liberties taken by the writer and filmmaker in presenting the real man Varunni Joseph but Du Pont the Frenchman who brought the projection machine called bioscope was real and also his abrupt departure from India after he developed health complications. Samikannu Vincent a draughtsman who was working in the Railways in Tiruchy in Madras State also was enamoured of the bioscope and when Du Pont decided to go back to France on account of ill health he bought the machine from him for Rs.2000. This happened in 1905. Did Varunni Joseph also buy his bioscope from Du Pont and that too around the same hour when the French man was about to leave? May be Du Pont had more than one bioscope to dispense with as he wanted to familiarize and also facilitate the sale of that gadget and coincidentally he had to sell both of them only when afflicted. However we will be glad if someone who has the knowledge of having read the book in Malayalam comes up with some details that will ultimately result in the better appreciation of the film. The story of Samikannu Vincent who acquired the projector from Du Pont was antipodal to Diwakaran the double of Varunni Joseph in the film. Samikannu did not drown it . He took it all over India and he was the first movie exhibitor of Tamil Nadu if not the entire Madras State which comprised of other areas besides Tamilnadu in the pre Independent India. He constructed a studio,a chain of theatres and directed films himself. His was the case of a pioneer who rode on the crest of fame and money from the start.