Lights slowly fading for India's touring cinemas

Thu Feb 4, 2010 3:57am EST
 
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By Shivani Singh

BANGALORE (Reuters Life!) - Picture a football field on a tea estate in northeastern India, where hundreds of workers sit before a meters-wide screen stretched across bamboo poles to watch the Bollywood hero bash up the goons and win the girl.

Cut to a far-flung district in western Maharashtra state, where thousands of farmhands attending a religious festival crowd under giant marquees to watch another movie, on another, similar makeshift screen, a few weeks later.

Traveling cinemas were for more than 60 years the only way residents of rural India could watch movies, but this tradition of the "tambu talkies" is slowly fading away in the face of competition from cable TV, bootleg DVDs and other modern forms of entertainment that have made their way into villages.

"This is a dying form of business, and if nothing is done with that then if it dies down it will be history," said Ajay Sarpotdar, the head of an organization that represents Maharashtra's traveling cinemas.

He said there are now about 40 traveling cinemas in Maharashtra state -- the home of Mumbai and Bollywood -- down from 2,000 three or four decades ago.

Before it disappears completely, researcher Shirley Abraham and photographer Amit Madheshiya have documented these cinemas in the villages of Maharashtra, in a project funded by the government's Indian Foundation of the Arts.

"When they watched the god on the screen they almost became fearful of the medium or they were showering flowers and coins on the screen or just turning back at the projector beam thinking that god will come riding on the beam," Abraham, describing villagers watching popular mythological films.

The documentary makers, who traveled across Europe and Asia with their research, were recently in Bangalore.   Continued...

 
<p>Cinemagoers watch a Bollywood film inside a tent cinema in Pusegaon in this undated handout realised on February 4, 2010. Cut to a far-flung district in western Maharashtra state, where thousands of farmhands attending a religious festival crowd under giant marquees to watch another movie, on another, similar makeshift screen, a few weeks later. REUTERS/Amit Madheshiya/Handout</p>