It’s hard not to wonder why we — as a society — have such a deep reverence for plastic: plastic body parts, plastic filled homes, and, in the case of the doc Original Copy, plastic generic print posters that are making the once exquisitely hand-painted ones a thing of the past.
Painter Sheikh Rehman paints for an old Hindi movie palace in Mumbai. He is a world weary, charming rogue, working shirtless in his studio while grumpily instructing his middle-age long time assistances — Ashok and Surga, and young protégé Sunil (whom he lovingly encourages to become a more fearless artist) — how to help him complete his work. His wit and candour, as well as his motley crew of friends, make him perfect for this fairly long documentary.
Rehman and the crew are creating posters for “masala movies”: Bollywood films ram packed with heroes, villains, vengeance, and redemption. The few who still come to the theater expect to escape from their daily lives; they demand to live vicariously through the tribulations and triumphs that characteristically take place in every film. But beyond escapism, these films have deeply influenced the psychology of those who watch it, even affecting how they see their own lives. Rehman knows this and his posters capture the heat that get feet through the theater doors. The power of his banners once drove crowds to films that were initially deemed as bombs.
Rehman’s father was a master painter. He discouraged his son from pursuing art, but Rehman followed his passion and is now recognized as the last master painter in this dying tradition. Sadly, his sons choose not to take up this legendary art form, shunning their father’s career for not being prestigious enough.
Commerce comes with predictable demands and in some ways it has suppressed Rehman’s artistic fire. But though he concedes — sort-of — to creating what the public and distributors demand (“You like. I like,” is how he puts it.”), he finds a way to circumvent everyone else’s choices by creating “Bollywood Biryani,” a screen that pays tribute to his favourite Bollywood actors, painted in shades that speak to art rather than commerce (“Colour [is the] game of the artist,” he says with pride. “It’s my game”).
The movie palace, run by the devoted granddaughter of its founder, is a “sinking ship.” With a new boss possibly taking over the theater, the price of prints increasing, and audiences disappearing, Rehman sees his life’s passion becoming irrelevant. What I find interesting is that if this theater was in Brooklyn or even Toronto it would be a hipster sanctuary, and probably be one of the biggest money makers in the city.
The documentaries poignant and fitting ending moved me to tears. And I hope that, as with records, hand-painted posters’ increasing rarity becomes the thing that saves it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the founder of The Winehouse Mag.
Original Copy | Director(s): Florian Heinzen-Ziob & Georg Heinzen. | 95 min
Innis Town Hall – Sun, Apr 26 6:30 PM
ROM Theatre – Tue, Apr 28 12:30 PM
Scotiabank Theatre – Sun, May 3 6:00 PM