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In the dark on Oscar - Salim Baba protagonist says he was misled

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By PRATIM D. GUPTA in Calcutta
  • Published 25.01.08

Calcutta, Jan. 25: Cinemawallah Salim, the protagonist of short docu Salim Baba that is in the running for the Oscars, has said he was not given the faintest clue that the film on him was being made for public screening.

“I was told they were filming me for their own CD and I was given only Rs 10,000 for the entire shoot that went on for weeks,” the frail 52-year-old said, looking distraught as he sat with his two sons in their one-room Marcus Road shack in north Calcutta.

Americans Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello had last year captured on camera the magic of the man who has been screening film scraps with his father’s 110-year-old Japanese hand-cranked projector ever since he can remember.

Yeh Oscar hai kya (What are these Oscars)?” Muhammad Salim asked incredulously when told the film on him had been nominated for the Oscars.

The Telegraph tried to reach both Sternberg and Bello. Three emails sent to them from early December till Tuesday, the day the Oscar nominations were announced, weren’t replied to, and calls made to their phones went to their answering machines.

Salim claimed he first got the inkling that he “had been cheated” last September when the duo sent him a “release letter” asking for his signature.

In America, producers are very particular about getting a signed release letter from anyone who appears in their films. This allows them to screen their film wherever they wish and sell it to television networks.

“I haven’t signed the letter because it says I cannot let others film me,” Salim said, fishing out a copy of the letter.

“If it was in my hands, I would have stopped the film from being screened everywhere. It does not have my approval.”

Dressed in a crumpled shirt and lungi, Salim then tried to explain the “magic” that drew so many filmmakers. Some from the city are believed to have already taken a shot at filming him, and a London-based production house wants to shoot in April.

But he could not help ruing that his “screenings” --- on a two-and-a-half-inch-wide screen under a black canopy in front of Moonlight cinema on Sundays --- were no longer as much of a draw as they used to be, though a ticket came for as little as Re 1.

“I used to have a flourishing business at one time, but today not many are keen to watch my screenings.”

He said some diehards continued to huddle beneath the canopy when he --- helped by younger son Arshad --- cranked up the Lumiere to show trailers of Tere Naam or Mujhse Shaadi Karogi that he bought from distributors at Rs 10 a kg.

“Every film of mine has always been a hit,” he smiled sadly, a tear rolling down, unaware the film on him was making a splash at festivals from Telluride to Tribeca, Sundance to Sidewalk.