For about six decades now, travelling tent cinema companies accompany Jatras — annual religious fairs which begin in rural Maharashtra, after the crop gathering season ends in October.
Travelling with these fairs, not very far from the cinema capital of India — Mumbai, the tent talkies visit remote villages that are far from fixed-site theatres. Films are shown in large tents, using makeshift equipment, with the audience seated on the ground. The travelling cinemas show mixed fare, including regional language films, Bollywood blockbusters and Hollywood movies, but they are facing a fight for survival as DVDs become more easily accessible and cable networks penetrate further into the country.
In the late 1940s, farmers, teachers and electricians from villages in Maharashtra bought second hand Bauer projectors. Carried away on a bullock cart, this cinema paraphernalia became the nodal point for organising tent cinema companies.
Through our work with the nomadic talkies , we strive to 'historicise' the history of cinema — as a form and as practice — in India, as well to 'provincialise' it, by turning to the modalities through which it was delivered away from the big cities and the sophisticated standing theatres, by creating a home-grown system of cinema exhibition.
— For his work on tent cinemas, the author has won the arts research grant from India Foundation for the Arts (2008), a fellowship from the Cluster of Excellence at Heidelberg University (2009) and the Goethe-Institute 50 Year Anniversary Grant (2010). This work also won the World Press Photo, apart from the Sony World Photography Award and the Humanity Photo Award.