Director: Balaji Maheshar
"Dear Cinema," is a confrontation of the filmmaker’s relationship with his father, exploring the family’s intimate and difficult relationship with cinema and politics over the past three generations.
The year is 2005, and a speaker at a political gathering suddenly collapses on stage. The man, who was once an actor, is campaigning for MGR’s political party in a small village near Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu. Within moments of falling, he passes away. His last words are in praise of his leader, MGR. Eight years later, his grandson Balaji, the filmmaker, begins documenting single-screen cinema halls across the state of Tamil Nadu. The revelations from this journey change the way he looks at his family, his father Maheshwar, who tried hard and failed to enter cinema in his youth, and his own self, who is strangely drawn towards the camera.
During Balaji's childhood, Maheshwar liked taking him along when he screened re-releases of films. At some point in time, during his teens, Balaji started to drift away from his father. He was unable to understand his father’s obsession for cinema and what it did to his family. To confront the distance between them, the filmmaker began to document his father. He saw how "cinematic" Maheshwar's everyday life is and sometimes saw it reflected in his own life as well. What seemed at first to be an attempt to document the decaying cinema halls and their memories has become a confrontation about how the world of cinema has suspended Balaji and his family from reality.
When I was about 14 years old, I took off from school and pedalled my bicycle to an abandoned hotel near the beach. I had heard from a friend that my favourite actor’s movie was being filmed there. At first, the line of vehicles and huge lights scared me, but I joined the crowd to watch the actor repeat his stunts for a fight sequence over and over again. The whole place was silent except for the sounds made by the stunt actors. I was only there for a photo with the actor, but more importantly, I wanted to see him in person. I’ve seen his image on the big screen, but what is he like in reality? I can recall how exhilarated I felt when he glanced at me for just a second.
Was it the same feeling that made my grandfather leave his town to become an actor? Was it the same feeling people had when they visited my house to take a photograph with my grandfather, who had by then become famous? Was it the same feeling that made my father struggle all his youth, only to make a fleeting appearance in a film? What creates this allure towards cinema? How far is one prepared to go based on the idea of an image?
"Dear Cinema," began as a photography project almost 10 years ago, when in 2013 I started documenting single-screen cinema halls across Tamil Nadu. This process led me to understand myself and my family’s history better. Understanding the limitations of photography as a medium, I intend to make this film. Being both an insider and an outsider, suspended in a liminal space, I am able to come to terms with my father’s obsession for cinema and the chaos it created in the family.