A Bangladeshi-German folk tale about the clashes between religion and technology, “Television” invokes the playful, philosophical allegories of Iranian cinema by way of 1999’s Bhutanese spiritual dramedy “The Cup.” Helmer-producer Mostofa Sarwar Farooki brings a guileless wit to this story about the hullabaloo that erupts when a village gets its first TV, but his doting affection for his subjects comes at the expense of dramatic incident and momentum. Nevertheless, this is modestly diverting work from an overlooked corner of the subcontinent. Festivals that feted the helmer’s “Third Person Singular Number” should pick up the buzz; India and Germany could tune in theatrically.
Chairman Amin (Shahir Kazi Huda), the head of a village in Noakhali-Chandpur, is a devout Muslim who subscribes to the religious tenet that forbids the display of images to the outside world. He hides behind a huge screen while being interviewed on TV, and the partition between Amin and the skeptical reporter conducting the interview is one of the film’s many visual symbols of communication problems arising from widening generation gaps.
In fact, the self-righteous, autocratic Amin condemns all new technology. His son Solaiman (Chanchal Chowdhury) has to devise an elaborate ruse in order to gain Amin’s permission to get a mobile phone so he can chat with g.f. Kohinoor (Nusrat Imrose Tisha). In another farcical episode, Solaiman, with the help of family employee Mojnu (Mosharof Karim), plots a Skype date that entails all the intrigue of an elopement.
Amin’s authority and standing as the village’s moral guardian is challenged when Kumar, a private tutor, buys a TV. Since Kumar is Hindi, Amin cannot deter him with Islamic doctrine, and soon the local population is gathering at his window, craning for a glimpse of the magic box. Amin’s bird-brained minion Jobbar (Iman Lee) devises all manner of tactics to quell the villagers’ tube fever, even making them apply for visas before they’re allowed to enter a TV-friendly town nearby, in one example of the pic’s charmingly daft provincial humor.
Serving up a smorgasbord of slapstick, romance, family melodrama and religious contemplation, Farooki squeezes too much into a yarn whose many conflicts — between sacred and profane, tradition and modernity, truth and imagination — could have been more lucidly expressed through a slicker, simpler storyline. He also takes an inordinate length of time to set the scene before introducing the main plot, lingering on digressive episodes. When the pic finally builds to a climactic rift among Amin, Solaiman and Kohinoor, the sudden plunge into weepy, angry soap opera is awkwardly off-key.
Performances are a touch exaggerated, but generally cheerful. As the domineering patriarch, Huda conveys dignified conviction even if Amin’s pontifications sometimes sound ludicrous, and his attitude toward women is less than enlightened. Still, rather than being merely polemical, Amin’s concern for young people’s vulnerability to worldly temptations, and his love for his son, are genuine enough to make his eventual epiphany uplifting. The director also gracefully avoids cliched representations of Muslim-Hindu discord.
Tech credits are fittingly down-to-earth. In addition to splendidly capturing the location’s lush forests and pristine beaches, lenser Golam Maola Nobir devises unusual camera angles to create intriguing spatial relationships between protags and various symbolic thresholds.