BIOSCOPE (Dir. K. M. Madhusudhanan, 2008, India) – Phantasmagoria


The Bioscope, an early film projector, created by Charles Urban in 1897, is the magical invention that forms the basis for Keralan director K. M. Madhusudhanan’s visually imposing feature. Bioscope explores the suspicions aroused when local man Diwakaran introduces moving pictures to a village. The film portrays the early power of moving images, detailing the elemental clash between tradition and modernity in the context of a colonial India. The Bioscope, a feature of travelling fairgrounds, suggesting the cinema of attractions, is recreated in the inquisitive faces of villagers spellbound by the hand-cranked phantasmagorias projected on a rudimentary white canvas. Madhusudhanan seems acutely hypnotised by this image, the hesitant gaze of the villagers as they watch the films, uncertain how they should react. Juxtaposed to encroaching modernity are the quotidian regularities of village life that depend on rituals. The very idea that photographic technology can capture the essence of life and thereby the soul of an individual is a fear exhibited in the village, positing the Bioscope as a violation of the sacred, disturbing the equilibrium. Such embryonic unease about technology, that film steals the shadows of people and conceals within it the undetermined is extenuated in the death of Diwakaran’s mute wife. Diwakaran’s desire to bring the power of film to the village is gradually challenged and ultimately disrupted by an impossible orthodoxy. Since this is a film about film, the saliently reflexive cinematographic style is articulated by bold, striking visual compositions of spatial imaginings in which the villagers are depicted in synchronity with the pastoral milieu. Madhusudhanan says Bioscope is the first in a trilogy of films dealing specifically with the origins, evolution and impact of film in Kerala. Perhaps most striking are the abstract compositions that linger in our cinematic memories, courtesy of DOP M. J. Radhakrishnan.

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