There’s dust in the air and the sun radiates through floating orbs and onto the faces of sign painter Sheikh Rehman and his apprentice. They are in Alfred Talkies, one of the remaining analogue cinemas in Mumbai. The window, which the men are sitting by, looks palatial. A break from this fantastical moment comes when the youngest painter takes out his camera phone whilst his boss looks cinematic, smoking a cigarette. At this point Rehman could have expressed one of Original Copy’s many philosophies: “This is life’s movie” but instead poses until his cigarette burns to a stub, illuminated by views of changing skylines.
This documentary is a candid depiction of the humour and determination it takes to fight to survive through Mumbai’s amplifying gentrification. At the heart of doing so, we are able to reflect on some of India’s inner social complexities. Alfred Talkies appears as a microcosm of the outside.
At times it’s hard not to feel down for the team of sign painters and their cinema family; each employee shares and has their own struggles – between death, poverty, difficult gender stereotypes, class and commitment. Courage is found within the Hindi picture palace, and the films that it runs 4 times a day, 365 days a year. Owner Namja explains that for her, through these films, “when bad things happen you have the strength to face the challenge.”
The documentary feels lengthy but likeable. At just over 1 hour and a half, Original Copy’s story can feel quite drawn out. Although this is counteracted by the charisma and wisdom of the Alfred Talkies’ employees it still feels like a lot of airtime is spent on shots of contemplating faces and cinema spectators. This can leave one feeling quite passive about the events unfolding onscreen. Maybe this is somehow the necessary or truthful way to feel from the comfort of a Glaswegian cinema seat.
There’s certainly a unique vibrancy depicted in this documentary that could soon dwindle in a changing, socio-spatial environment. Would we want this to change, and is this for us to spectate or decide? No. Maybe Original Copy is best viewed for its meditations on life, art and lessons from some amazing human beings.