Touring Talkies: Film Review

This broadly played crowd-pleaser pits a no-nonsense female projectionist against an art house director in rural India.

Gajendra Ahire's film stars actress and producer Trupti Bhoir as the projectionist of a traveling cinema in Maharashtra, India.

An earthy, hard-working woman needs to play a Bollywood actress in order to save her traveling cinema in the Marathi film Touring Talkies, from prolific writer-director Gajendra Ahire (Not Only Mrs. Raut, Anumati).

Actress Trupti Bhoir, Ahire's star from Hello JaiHind, headlines the cast and also produced the project, which is reportedly based on her experiences of showing one of her films in so-called "tent talkies" at a yatra, or religious fair, in the state of Maharashtra (in western India; Mumbai is the capital). Touring Talkies can in some ways be described as an Indian take on Cinema Paradiso, at once a love letter to a dying form of film exhibition and, less successfully, a love letter to cinema itself, as Bhoir's character, a projectionist, finds herself accompanied by a big-city art house director.

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As with most films about the movies, this film's appeal extends beyond its simple, not always entirely convincing narrative and should find a home at festivals and on VOD. Appropriately, it toured in tents in India itself when it was released last year.

Bhoir is Chandi, a no-nonsense projectionist who tries to keep her traveling business afloat with the help of her kid brother, Babhya (Chinmay Sant), even though her drunkard father (veteran Suhas Palshikar) has just gambled away all their money and will have to give up their tent in six months if they can't pay the rest of his debts.

When their 35 mm prints are taken away, they need a film that's as successful as their last runaway fair hit, The Innocent Girl With the Naughty Blouse. Enter Avinash (local heartthrob Subodh Bhave, from Sound of Heaven: The Story of Balgandharva and Ranbhool), a handsome city slicker and art house director who somehow -- read: obscure plot machinations -- finds himself at a rural fair and who happens to have a film that the owner of a rival cinema tent won't show.

Their collaboration means that the director, who believes himself an auteur and whose films normally play the festival circuit, is up for a lesson in what the plebs really like: titillating titles with beautiful women. His film's poster has to be redone with faces of popular stars that aren't even in the film and little Babhya also splices in some explicit content that proves a shock to the director's visiting star actress (Neha Pense), who asks in disbelief: "Did you leave the camera running?"

Though Ahire gets some comic mileage out of the art house/mainstream and city/country differences, the film never probes these subjects very deeply, which is a shame, especially because Chandi, as a woman of the people but also a cinema lover, might have had some interesting observations about how female stars are treated and objectified -- especially after she has to impersonate one to generate better ticket sales.

Avinash's decision to tag along for a tour of different fairs is largely unmotivated, and his character feels like it was conceived more as a foil for Chandi than a character in his own right. Consequently, Bhoir is clearly the star of the show and as such is utterly convincing, while the other characters are more one-note, though Kishore Kadam gets some laughs as Raja, the cinema's announcer with a megaphone who has a tendency to broadcast even the most intimate details of whatever he witnesses.

The songs on the soundtrack, not performed by the actors but simply accompanying the images, are a dime a dozen. However, the score by veteran composer Ilayaraja, another JaiHind alumnus, cleverly plays on the film's tradition-versus-modernity theme and Amol Gole's cinematography makes good use of the countryside locations.

Production company: Trupti Bhoir Films
Cast: Trupti Bhoir, Subodh Bhave, Neha Pense, Chinmay Sant, Kishore Kadam, Vaibhav Mangle, Suhas Palshikar
Writer-Director: Gajendra Ahire
Producer: Trupti Bhoir
Director of photography: Amol Gole
Production designer: Vasu Patil
Music: Ilayaraja
Costume designer: Sunita Padbadri
Editor: Ballu Saluja
No rating, 105 minutes