In a small, decadent U.P town, stands a seemingly unremarkable film theatre. The story of this theatre is, in a way, the story of the town itself – its endeavour to symbolise romance, reflects the town’s forgotten role in a history that stretches from Ved Vyas to Phoolan Devi; its dilapidation mirrors the town’s descent into a deep-seated and irrevocable malaise. In Kalpi, Kumar Talkies is an unobtrusive embodiment of yearning. The men who wend their way to its dark, decrepit hall to watch garish Hindi films in defiance of the sordidness of their own reality, serve to remind us of the hunger for colour and passion amidst the dust and squalor of twenty-first century suburban India.
Pankaj Rishi Kumar’s interest in Kalpi and Kumar Talkies is both personal and professional, if it is possible in his case to separate the two. It was his father, Rishi Kumar, who founded Kumar Talkies in 1969, and Pankaj Rishi Kumar, in this directorial debut entitled Kumar Talkies, uses the documentary mould to recreate the ambience of this small town and the lives of its inhabitants in relation to Kumar Talkies which serves both as a metaphor and a point of reference. In fact, ‘film’, with all its varied connotations, will function as the central motif of the documentary. Apart from the background presence of the film theatre, the reactions of local inhabitants to a film that has them as subjects, footage from old and new Hindi films, archival visual material and references to Kalpi’s bazaar photography will also be woven into the film’s narrative.
Pankaj Rishi Kumar, who graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India in 1992, has wide experience in editing and camera work and is also interested in theatre and photography. IFA’s grant enabled him to complete work on Kumar Talkies which has already received partial funding from Hubert Bal Fund of the International Film Festival, Rotterdam and Soumitra Ranade Productions, Mumbai. Jagan Shah, who is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and is currently doing research on modern architecture at Columbia University, New York, served as assistant director on this project, while Praveen Swami, special correspondent for Frontline functioned as consultant for Kumar Talkies.
Kumar Talkies was, in its conception articulated with an eloquence that led on evaluator to suggest that a book comprising text and photographs in equal part was what such passionate involvement with the subject actually merited. A film, he felt may not be able to do justice to the complexity and scale of the theme. It was finally decided that while IFA’s grant would go towards the completion of the film, thought would be given to the possibility of making a subsequent grant to enable Pankaj Rishi Kumar to put together a book or monograph on the film and the issues it had raised. Two alternative projects which the film’s earnings might eventually support are a study of the craft of handmade paper in Kalpi, or a larger documentary series on traditional itinerant artists.