June 02, 2020
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Celluloid Reams

Clever. Subversive wit carries the book through its ambitious trajectory but Hazra’s telling is oppressed by passages of film script.

Celluloid Reams
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
The Bioscope Man
By Indrajit Hazra
Penguin Pages: 320; Rs. 299
Indrajit Hazra’s clever Bioscope Man begins with a satisfying act of literary revenge. Tarini Chatterjee empties the bilious sludge of his gluttony with a lavish gush of vomit straight into the lap of Adela Quested. (This is Adela before Dr Aziz, and may even explain her later twitchiness in the Marabar Caves in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India.) We are given no time to gloat as Tarini crumbles into decline like most characters in this novel of truncated lives that take off with panache but dissolve into an empty frame—the nonlife of Tarini’s son, Abani.

The bioscope has just arrived in Calcutta and young Abani, introduced to its magic by Shombhu Mama, simply has to await destiny. It arrives soon as ‘Prahlad Parmeshwar’, with Abani playing Prahlad. ‘The Black Hole of Calcutta’ makes Abani a star.

His real life grows evanescent—people die or leave, he falls in love, but is content to be merely "joined together in nitrate" with his beloved, nationalism gathers strength, and the days of standing in the balcony with his cousins and urinating on the busy street below are long over. All that’s real is the moment when Abani leaks out of his skin and becomes someone else on celluloid.

Subversive wit carries the book through its ambitious trajectory but Hazra’s telling is oppressed by passages of film script. He should have trusted his narrative strength enough to avoid them.

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