For seven decades now, travelling cinemas have been transporting the magic of movies to audiences across rural India. Published on BBC on September 27, 2017.
Award winning photographer Amit Madheshiya began chronicling India’s famous travelling cinemas in 2008.
Often travelling as a part of religious and entertainment fairs, they bring the big screen magic to millions. Huge tents are hitched to the back of gigantic trucks and films are screened using hand-cranked projectors. However, with advancing technologies and widespread connectivity these touring cinemas have started losing audiences who prefer watching films on DVDs and mobile phones.
Here’s a selection of Amit Madheshiya’s pictures and an account of the project, in his words:
I began working on the travelling cinemas project in early 2008.
This was the time when many single screen theatres were shutting down, giving way to malls and multiplexes.
Watching these temples of cinema razed to the ground, my collaborator Shirley Abraham and I began to travel the length and breadth of the country.
We did not know what we were seeking.
But we found a taste of it as we sat bunched up with excited children under a neem tree, where an old man was showing scraps of film on a hand cranked projector.
Then, like a distant mirage, huge tents hitched to the back of gigantic trucks appeared. Age-old cinema projectors began whirring away.
Outside, thousands sat crouched by the beam of the projector, soaking in the magic of movies. It was like being transported back in time.
Travelling cinemas are believed to have become a part of the mythology of cinema.
It was a reminder that although the technologies with which audiences experience cinema may have changed, the wonder of movies remains unchanged.
We soon realised this was a largely untold story.
For about seven decades now, travelling cinemas have brought the magic of the movies to audiences living far from permanent theatres in rural areas of the western state of Maharashtra.
An enchanting world of fairgrounds, bulbous tents, stately projectors and film cans, these travelling cinemas are now trying hard to lure patrons who have moved to slicker and more individualised modes of watching movies like DVDs and mobile phones.
One of the last stops of travelling cinemas in the world, this ancient yet unique cinema culture faces being lost to history
This inspired me to make my film, The Cinema Travellers.
It premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2016 to a standing ovation and won the Special Jury Prize for L’Oeil d’or: Le Prix du documentaire.
Through these years I learnt that cinema is the most profound form of human expression, and the immersion it commands unites us across language and borders.
I believe these portraits of audiences – immersed in their movies, will bind readers across the world in a magical experience that only cinema can create.
In collaboration with Galleryske, Delhi-based gallery PHOTOINK is holding a show Cinema Travellers, an exhibition of colour portraits by Amit Madheshiya.
All photographs credit Amit Madheshiya