TODAY -

Best ever Bond film for children

Jyaneswar Laishram *

 The Black Cat poster
The Black Cat poster



If not mistaken, no writer from the hill in India is comparable to Ruskin Bond. This hill-man storyteller from Mussoorie has delivered stories unconditionally admired by children and adults alike. A handful of his stories have so far been adapted into films. I have watched them all. And none of them could justifiably translate the author's narrative into motion picture, except the latest - The Black Cat, which is directed by the young Assamese filmmaker Bhargav Saikia, based on the short story of the same name from the writer's 1999 book A Season of Ghosts. The short story has however been a part of Ruskin Bond's several anthologies of stories.

Generally people call Ruskin Bond a children writer, for he predominantly writes for children, and his spooky stories revolving around the Himalayan foothills, pet animals, funny relatives and friends are widely popular among young readers. When I say 'spooky' Ruskin Bond's style is not that kind of Edgar Allan Poe's. Ghosts and hunting characters in his stories are more or less humorous and friendly. The Black Cat is one such kind, a story with a humorous witch, now being made into a Lorien Motion Pictures' short film of 19 minutes and 56 second

The film The Black Cat opens with the scene in which protagonist Ruskin Bond, played by the late actor Tom Alter, visiting an old junk shop in a bazaar of a hill station, presumably Mussoorie where the writer currently resides. He regularly purchased old books or Victorian bric-a-brac from the shop. That day he attracted to a long-handed broom with 'full of character' standing in a corner. He wanted to buy it simply because using short-handed jharoo (broom in Hindi) made him uncomfortably bend double.

 The Black Cat (Jumbo)
The Black Cat (Jumbo)



Soon after the broomstick arrived in his house a black cat visited him. He did not care much for cats. As he opened the door the feline fellow followed him indoors and started scratching the pantry door. He thought it must be hungry. He fed it milk and asked to leave, but it didn't abandon the house for days and showed extra interest in the boom. Little did he know any supernatural combination and possibility between the black cat and the broomstick; but everything unfolded the day when Miss Bellows, played by actor Shernaz Patel, visited his house, looking for her lost black cat.

Miss Bellows, an elderly straight-baked English woman, who got death stare and wore rather an old-fashioned black dress, walked with an ancient but strong walnut stick. She was the oldest resident in the hill station. Mr Bond warmly welcomed her as she turned up for the first time at his place in pursuit of her lost cat. She made herself comfortable in an armchair while he went into another room looking for the cat that was in mysterious absent. When he helplessly returned to the sitting room, there was the cat, curled up on Miss Bellows' lap.

  Ruskin Bond and Bhargav Saikia
Ruskin Bond and Bhargav Saikia



Miss Bellows refused to take tea that Mr Bond wanted to offer her. Instead, she ordered some hot water and a drinking glass. Then she pulled out some powdery substances from the side pockets of her voluminous black dress, put them into the glass and asked Mr Bond to pour the hot water. When he did it there was a terrific fizzing and bubbling with froth rising up to the rim, something like it would crack the glass. But Miss Bellows took no concern of it as she drained it in one go and smacked her lips. She then gratifyingly thanked Mr Bond and left the house, with the cat tossing its tail high in the air.

As soon as the two guests reached his front gate, Mr Bond made a half-hearted attempt to laugh at his fancies of Miss Bellows, but all stuck in his throat the moment he found the broomstick missing from its corner. He dashed out of his cottage, looked up and down the pathway where no one was to be seen around. But when he looked up into the sky something was whirling like a Diwali rocket. It was Miss Bellows and her black cat riding on his broomstick, with the big moon in the backdrop!

Visual effects by Phantom-FX played great technical competency while converting the vitality of the original story into a film and the approbation is for A Vasanth's cinematography as well. The Black Cat is a dream-come-true project for filmmaker Bhargav Saikia, who has long been a fan of Ruskin Bond, but never ever expected that he would someday make a film on one of the writer's stories. It was when he was in an elementary class in Assam his grandfather gifted him a Ruskin Bond book, Our Trees Still Grow in Dhera - his first introduction to Bond books. To Saikia, what Ronald Dal in England is what Ruskin Bond is in India. He is hardcore fan of both the authors.

  Shrernaz Patel as Miss Bellows
Shrernaz Patel as Miss Bellows



Prior to the recent public release on Children's Day, The Black Cat was screened specially for Ruskin Bond at Woodstock School in Mussoorie, during which the author nodded to the way Saikia converted his story into a film, without distorting the story's thematic essence. In this, the writer in one of his earlier interviews a few years back shook his head in dismay for not liking some parts of director Vishal Bharadwaj's adaptations of his stories: The Blue Umbrella and Susanna's Seven Husbands (7 Khoon Maaf).

The biggest challenge Saikia faced while making The Black Cat was directing the cat named Jumbo, who played the witchy feline in the film, for that the four-footed furry actor was trained for months at a cattery in Mumbai. When he approached Mr Bond for the film project around a couple of years back, the writer assumed it would be an animated one. When he came to know about the project, he was skeptic about casting a real cat in the film; but Saikia pulled it off smoothly, flawlessly, winning the heart of Ruskin Bond and his fans, including me.

Tom Alter as Ruskin Bond
Tom Alter as Ruskin Bond



For me, at the first place, I was impressed with a specific characteristic of The Black Cat. The characteristic was its 'atmospheric' nature that reflects the feel of Ruskin Bond's spooky stories. And this characteristic was a missing ingredient in earlier films made based on the writer's stories and most of the Indian films, which are always bright and colourful. Additionally, The Black Cat is memorable for being a departing point for actor Tom Alter who was a close friend of Ruskin Bond, lived and brought up together in Mussoorie - in Landour town.

Saikia says The Black Cat is the beginning. He likes to make more films in this genre in future, designed for both kids and adults by picking up some from Ruskin Bond's anthologies. He feels children movies have been a big missing constituent in Indian cinema. His effort is to fill up this crater, for he feels hurt to see children watching items songs in theatres due to lack of films of their choice.

The Black Cat is now available for download and viewing on Lorien Motion Pictures' YouTube channel.


* Jyaneswar Laishram wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at ozzyjane(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 23, 2015.



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