Ruskin Bond is India’s most celebrated writer of children’s literature. Coinciding with the celebration of his 83rd birthday is The Black Cat. Based on his story of the same name, it’s one of the many titles being screened at the 2017 FilmQuest film festival. Director Bhargav Saikia has completed one of the most challenging tasks for any filmmaker: adapting literature to film. The difficulty lies in being faithful to the source material while creating something palatable for audiences. Saikia accomplishes this, crafting a product that’s both charming and whimsical.
While being faithful to the original text, it utilizes an omniscient point of view as opposed to the original first person narrative. Although Bond’s story is written for children, it can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes enter the world of magical realism. The story is about the author purchasing a broom from a local shopkeeper. After returning home, it doesn’t take long for a black feline to enter his life. This brings about a local woman named Miss Bellows looking for her cat, and possibly something more…
Tom Alter’s performance as Bond is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. An actor with over 100 roles to his credit, he brings a great deal of grandfatherly charm to the role. In contrast, actress Shernaz Patel’s incarnation of Ms. Bellows is near perfect. She manages to combine the persona of both a sophisticate and an eccentric. Although hampered by a 20-minute running time, The Black Cat boasts wonderful set design and colorful imagery. It’s shot remarkably well and Advait Nemlekar’s musical compositions flow with the frenetic pacing and occasional jump cut.
Although it’s thoroughly enjoyable, I can’t help but feel this is an unfinished product. While the basic elements of a complete story are present, it feels like a portion of something larger. It manages to stand on its own, but it would be more fitting as part of an anthology. (Much like the original story that appeared in Bond’s Seasons of Ghosts.) If someone were completely unaware of the author, they might miss references that are scattered throughout. Nevertheless, Saikia is a name people should be looking out for in the years to come. A new voice in fantasy and magical realism, I think he’s on the verge of achieving wonderful things.
The Black Cat is showing at the FilmQuest film festival, on Wednesday September 13, 2017 in Provo, Utah.