Monday, December 6, 2010

The Boot Cake

Some 33 years after his death, Charlie Chaplin is breathing new life into an Indian community. This incongruous tale is presented in the Kathryn Millard's charming documentary, which follows a pilgrimage of sorts, from Australia to The Charlie Chaplin Circle in western Gujarat town of Adipur. They're gearing up to celebrate his 116th birthday, and Millard has said she'll bring the cake.
If Gujarat rings a bell, it’s because the region made headlines back in 2001, when a devastating earthquake claimed the lives of over 20,000 people, and injured over 160,000 more. The haunting effects of this calamity form the poignant foundation of this documentary, where Chaplin's infamous shoe eating scene from The Gold Rush takes on an affecting contemporary resonance.

The Charlie Circle is lead by an Ayurvedic doctor and die hard Chaplin fan, Dr. Aswani. Here is a man who literally prescribes Chaplin movies to his patients, easing their suffering with some silent cinema. He and aspiring actor Prevan Mumbai are also joyful impersonators, and Millard intersperses these shuffling antics with moving accounts of how Chaplin has shaped their lives.

Of course there's the eponymous cake to consider as well, and Millard brings some self-deprecation to her hunt for the correct method for crafting a boot cake that will survive in Adipur’s steamy conditions. In fact this quest becomes a little confused at times, for Millard stays resolutely behind the camera, yet intones an increasingly personal narration of what this 'pilgrimage' has meant to her. Had she stepped in front of the camera, and given the audience more context to her fascination with Chaplin, such revelations might have fallen on more inquiring ears.

Like the boot cake itself, a slightly odd jumble of ingredients has gone into shaping this documentary. But it is, if you'll pardon the pun, a unique slice of life that will leave you smiling, and hunting around for your Chaplin DVDs.

Published on Concrete Playground
The Boot Cake is currently screening at the Chauvel Cinema

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