Bapjaner Bioscope has a lot of the Bollywood tropes that South Asian cinema is known for – dramatic fast cuts and jumps, musical numbers, straightforward morals, and creative use of camera angles (there’s a great chase scene filmed just on a GoPro strapped to the chest of one of the characters) and a long two hour run-time broken up by an intermission.
However, it isn’t a fluff piece, and this award-winning film reinforces messages of Bangladeshi identity and the country’s narrative about the 1971 Independence War from Pakistan. The reinforcing of communal identity and national narrative through popular film isn’t anything new – you see it everywhere from Uzbekistan’s historical epics to America’s Marvel movies.
The film is a small conflict writ large – a poor farmer, Hasan, is inspired to take up his father’s bioscope – a hand-cranked portable slideshow machine, accompanied by live singing and storytelling. However, the stories he shares to his villages are stories are of his uncle, an independence fighter killed during 1971…by the family of the rich landlord who owns the barren sandbank the village is on. The landlord’s family were on the side of Pakistan, and are portrayed as collaborators and stooges – with a class element as well, as it’s implied part of their wealth and control comes from this collaboration.
The whole film is available on Youtube with English subtitles – though they translate bioscope as “peep show”, which carries a totally different connotation. The film’s soundtrack is beautiful – there’s lovely atmospheric setting pieces:
Even the love songs have a similar floating beauty: