There is only one cinema in Kalpi, a small town in northern India. Not much more than a dilapidated shed in the poorest section of town, the theater, Kumar Talkies, doesn't have any hits or flops - supply and demand doesn't apply here. Every day a few people come to see the film, irrespective of what it is.
KUMAR TALKIES juxtaposes the reality of Kalpi, where poverty affects all facets of life, with the world of rebellion and romance on the silver screen. The imaginary images of the impossible being made possible have become part of the collective consciousness in Kalpi. Cinema has become a vehicle that simultaneously conveys the urban imagination to the townspeople, while existing as a medium in which people expect their personal, local experiences to be captured and displayed. Kalpi takes shape in interviews with the townspeople and footage of their interactions with the film crew. In cinema-verité the village comes to life: quarrels for the best seats, conversations after the film, political debates in the bazaar.
KUMAR TALKIES looks at how, even in Kalpi, emerging information technologies widen the horizon of knowledge, but in so doing undermine and replace existing modes, both traditional and modern. There is one satellite dish for the whole town. The operator must balance the tastes of the townspeople, giving adequate airtime to each desired type of programming.
KUMAR TALKIES also explores not only the meaning of cinema and technology in Kalpi, but also the status of film in India, especially the relationship between Bollywood and its audience. It is also about the Kumar family's relationship with cinema. It was filmmaker Pankaj Rishi Kumar's father who thirty years ago renovated an old factory he had inherited, creating Kumar Talkies.
"A remarkable documentary exposition of the role of cinema as an entertainment device in India. This is documentary film at its best, telling a variety of stories in ways that are both recognizable and counterintuitive, entertaining and poignant."—Politics and Culture
Official Selection, 2001 Association for Asian Studies Film Festival
1999 Indian National Award for Best Audiography
Special Citation, 1999 Zanzibar International Film Festival
Society for Cinema Studies Conference, 2001
1999 Rotterdam International Film Festival
1999 Berlin International Film Festival
"This is a wise, witty and imaginative documentary ... the cinema gradually emerges as a metaphor for village life, where fantasy continues to play a central role in people's harsh lives."—Hollywood Reporter
"A tapestry woven from the threads of Indian cinematic history, the worldwide rise of television, and one town's struggle to survive - a feat that is simultaneously thoughtful, funny and heartbreaking."—Hawaii Film Festival