Explores how one community, reeling from the tragedy of the Gujarat earthquake that killed 200,000 people, finds hope and inspiration in the comic genius of Charlie Chaplin, one of the global icons of the past century. We see through their eyes, the pathos and humour of this unique physical comedy and the bitter-sweetness of his philosophies.

An endearing celebration of a comic icon.

A doctor sits facing a patient. Having decided on his diagnosis, the physician pens a prescription. He suggests neither rest nor medication, rather a motion picture from 1928: 'Please see Circus film," writes Dr. Aswani, the Indian physician who is one of the unlikely but winning stars of The Boot Cake, Australian filmmaker Kathryn Millard’s vibrant, comic documentary essay about the Indian town where Charlie Chaplin is revered. In Adipur, situated in western India, Chaplin’s birthday is celebrated each year and the local population boasts innumerable impersonators who pay tribute to Chaplin’s greatest character, the indomitable symbol of slapstick and pathos, the Tramp.

Millard, herself a Chaplin devotee, discovered Adipur as part of her research into the wider Chaplin phenomenon (she correctly saw the early silent film superstar as one of the first examples of a globalised identity). Once she learnt of the Charlie Circle, a society dedicated to the British-born comic since its formation in 1973, she had a specific story to focus on, and as well as subtly defining the ritualistic details of the dedicated following, she participates in the spirit of the event by taking responsibility for bringing the cake – naturally boot-shaped, in homage to the famous preparation scene from 1925’s The Gold Rush – to the celebration, complete with a parade and impersonators young and old, for what would have been Chaplin’s 116th birthday.

'In Charlie’s moustache, in his costume, there is a strange magic," observes one devotee. 'It pulls people towards him." Modestly resilient, the Tramp may well be a character not just from cinema’s history, but the landscape of contemporary India. Certainly in The Boot Cake Chaplin is a source not just of laughter, but a provider of hope; Dr. Aswani has a shrine to him, placing him alongside his traditional Indian deities. In the chaotic landscape Millard traverses, he’s rendered timeless.

The director worked with a minimal crew and cuts quickly between both source material and investigative tendencies – she’s naturally curious, but never dogmatic. Her previous feature, the 2003 coming of age tale Travelling Light, with Pia Miranda and Sacha Horler, strived to make empathetic connections while practicing somewhat dour period realism. But The Boot Cake, with its antic soundtrack, feels like a gaining of freedom. It’s a funny, touching movie about the strange extremes of faith, and it leaves you optimistic about what Millard might do next.


1 hour 14 min