Photo Feature > Travelling Tent Cinemas


I came across Travelling Tent Cinemas last year when it was mentioned on the list of IFA grants. Found links on the web which led to a series of images that brimmed with drama, atmosphere and a story worth telling. Presenting a few images from the series and a conversation with photographer Amit Madheshiya.

In conversation with Amit Madheshiya.

Indian By Design: How did Travelling Tent Cinemas of Maharashtra come about?
Amit: From 1896 to late 1930’s – the initial years of exhibition of cinema in India, cinema was predominantly an urban experience. Films were being exhibited in hotels, and newly erected theatres in Bombay and adjoining cities. Until a cache of mythological films, made in early 1930’s were found to be the best fits for the religious fairs (jatras) that on its own amassed a host of potential audiences. Realising the possibilities many enterprising men started to screen films in the jatras though on a very small scale. Some started as bioscope companies and later acquired 16 and 35mm projectors from Bombay for their nomadic setup. This was the beginning of a very profitable venture, by 1950’s the number of traveling cinema companies rose to about 300 in the state of Maharashtra alone; sharing out the neo-cultural experience with the villages.

Indian By Design: Did you travel with the Talkies? Who are the people who run it? How long does it take to set up? And how many days do they stay?
Amit: I have been travelling with a few tent cinema companies, to various villages, for over two years now. People running these companies come from varied backgrounds, you will find film distributors-producers, school teachers, farmers and, also descendants of families who have been in this business for generations. The setup usually takes about a day and depending on the attendance of audience in the fair the cinemas stay in one village from anywhere between a week to a month.

Indian By Design:
What do you feel is the social role this traveling talkie plays in modern India?
Amit: First and foremost, these nomadic companies bring big screen entertainment to remote village which still remain far from standing permanent theatres; becoming carriers of an experience that has become an integral part of our modern urban imagination. And significantly enough, these cinemas have come to strengthen the very jatras where they were introduced some decades back. Their symbiotic relationship with the old community festivals continue as they help the festivals thrive- drawing audiences to the unending charm of cinema.

Indian By Design:
Which movies did you watch while you were traveling with the talkies?
Amit: A wide variety of films including the regional Marathi and Telugu cinema, Bollywood films to Hollywood Blockbusters. Literally from Om Shanti Om to Avatar and Naagin to Balirajacha Rajya Yeu de (Let the reign of the farmers come).

Indian By Design: What were the most interesting remarks you received when you shared this study?
Amit: It was most amusing to hear responses of the researchers, academics, artists with whom we shared the project. Initially people are overcome with sheer disbelief do these cinemas actually exist till today? Many people in Mumbai are almost shocked to know that they continue to operate even after six decades, and that too in such proximity to the mainstream cinema-producing Bollywood. Additionally, some people also assume I operate a traveling cinema myself, and screen films in the villages!

Indian By Design: What are you planning next?
Amit: On this project I have been working in collaboration with Shirley Abraham, who is a researcher and filmmaker. Recently we have been selected for the Anniversary Grant program of the Goethe Institute. The story of these tent cinemas, which were initiated with the import of second hand Bauer projectors (of German make) from Bombay into neighbouring villages, is extremely pertinent to this project. We are also in process of developing a book and a documentary film on the cinemas.

<Amit Madheshiya is an independent photographer based in Mumbai. The Travelling Tent Cinemas project received seed grant from India Foundation for the Arts (Bangalore 2008-09), a fellowship from Cluster of Excellence (Heidelberg 2009) and is currently supported by Anniversary Grant Program, Goethe Institute India. This work has won awards from World Photography Award (Cannes 2009) and Humanity Photo Awards (China 2009). More pictures and details here: The Hindu, Himal Mag and Sea Images.>

9 Responses to “Photo Feature > Travelling Tent Cinemas”

  1. 1 TravellingCinema

    Watch this interesting Video with Amit on Traveling Cinemas:

  2. Dear Amit,
    I write to you regarding your stunning work, which inspired us @ Radio Educacion for Art and Culture in Mexico City. To dedicate a special Programme to this Photo Serie “Travelling Tents Cinema” in particular. That we submitted to our audience and will be trasmitted soon, in a couple of weeks. We would love to invite you to listen “A un click de distancia”: Imágenes sonoras. Every wednesday night 10:30 PM (CT).
    Congratulations and all best!

    Dr. Ana Pueblita

    twitter: @ArtandCulture
    Curator, Professor, Researcher @Ibero and @Radioeducacion

  3. 3 Ranjit Arvind

    First of all, CONGRATULATIONS, Amit on winning the prestigious World Press Photo award!! Very well deserved!
    We are a couple of photographers searching for old tent-style cinemas and touring talkies in India. Could you share some locations where (and when) we could find these unique theatres? We are trying various contacts and have chased down a few dead ends so far, so any leads you could provide would be very helpful.

    Thank you,

  4. What a captivating interview and interesting concept (at least to little old me on the other side of the world). Thank you for sharing!

  5. 5 anrosh

    Thanks for the reply amit.

  6. Must say, wonderful effort by Amit! And, thanks ‘Indian by Design’ for bringing this noble work of Amit to the blogging community.

    One thing not to miss is the quality of pictures used in this very blog. AMAZING, I would say! 🙂

  7. 7 Amit Madheshiya

    Thanks Anrosh. Responding to your questions:
    a) These cinemas are organised as small companies that are owned by individuals who often come from these villages. I am photographing these cinemas and am not involved in running the cinemas- so I do not pitch any tents for screening films.
    b) It’s a very commerical venture and also pretty organised in terms of license and official permision for screening films. So there isn’t any such unwanted intrusion by politicians.
    c) In a packed show about two thousand people watch films in one such tent. The number of women and men purely depends on the genre of film screened and the time of the show. In the afternoon and evening shows the attendance of women is significantly more than men which drops substantially in the late night shows.

  8. 8 amol

    Hi, thanks for sharing nice article.

  9. congragulations Amit. a few other questions come to my mind – What are the factors behind picking up which village you choose to pitch the tent ? Any politicians obstructing in showing any kind of social awareness film ?
    what is the general size of audience ? – more men, less women or vice versa

    thank you

%d bloggers like this: