A very interesting documentary about the Alfred Talkies, the last cinema in India to use 35mm film and have a team who hand paint billboards every week. The picturehouse is like a time capsule. If the projectionist goes off for a fag, the reel runs out and everybody in the audience shouts for the next one. Folk come in, kick off their shoes and plonk their feet up on the back of the seats. Everybody scrambles for an ice cream during intermission. It’s like the past fifty years of changes to cinemas didn’t touch this one wee corner.
Sheikh Rehman and his team paint a new billboard for the week’s blockbuster, a huge six-foot tall and 20-foot long canvass. It’s unreal. As the deadline looms close, they all just bed down on their workbenches and keep going at first light.
It’s a total labour of love. The owner Najma inherited the cinema from her grandfather, and both she and her grandfather ran the whole business like a family. Running a business like a family is a cliche used in management speak and 100% bullshit, but in this case it really is true. Rehman talks about how his fellow painters are his brothers, he’s worked with them every day for 40 years and more, doing something that doesn’t pay well but that he loves dearly and that honours his father, a painter before him. The cinema manager is brought to tears talking about how much Najma and her grandfather have done for him and his family, how the picturehouse regularly runs at a loss, but Najma will take out loans to pay the staff rather than let anyone go. And Najma herself is running this cinema that barely keeps its head above water despite the fact she lives in much the same straights as everyone else at the cinema and could make much more money selling the place and going into another business. But she won’t, because like everyone else that works there, she loves that cinema. Like Rehman, she honours her grandfather by keeping it going as he wanted it for as long as she can. She talks about the cinema having good souls in it, and you can feel that, see it in this tightly bonded group of people. You can feel the same protective urge for it that everyone who works there has. Wonderful to see it in this little film.