Indian paradise cinema

India’s well-known mobile cinema “Amar Touring Talkies”

Six or seven hours from Mumbai, there is an unremarkable town. This is Posegang, with a resident population of less than 10,000. However, when winter comes and festivals are held, a large number of people will pour into the town. Religion, business, entertainment, all kinds of activities come together. The once-quiet town has become bustling with cattle hawkers and pilgrims heading to Sevagiri Temple. At a glance, the towering Ferris wheel, various food stalls and hawkers selling food make this town very lively. In January 2002 in Pusegan, a giant red and white striped tent can be seen on the banks of the Yalala River, built by one of India’s well-known mobile cinemas, the “Amar Touring Talkies”.

There was an old-fashioned truck parked next to the tent with a movie poster on the roof and a loudspeaker hanging on the front cover to promote the movie to more people. The projector in the rear compartment can project light and shadow onto the big screen in the tent through the holes in the truck and tent. These are the basic configurations of a mobile theater. The ticket price for a movie here is 10 rupees, which is equivalent to 0.2 US dollars at the exchange rate at that time.

In the tent, there were more than 1,000 people, men, women, and children, on both sides of the screen, including locals from Pusegaon and some from nearby towns. Although the ground was full of dust, the audience didn’t care, just sat cross-legged and indulged in the movie. Some people are coming to a movie theater for the first time, while for others, it’s a routine. In this tent, movies are shown almost 24 hours a day, and about five or six movies are shown every day. When the town’s activities come to an end and the audience is satisfied, the staff will put away the tents, organize the film footage, bring promotional materials, and set off for the Deccan Plateau to participate in the next market. Along with the roar of the truck, “Amal Touring Audio Movie” gradually disappeared from people’s field of vision.

You don’t have to travel the mountains and rivers to watch a movie, just wait for the theater to come to you.

According to Amit Khanna, a veteran of the film industry, India can produce more than 2,000 films a year in dozens of languages, far exceeding other countries in the world. One-third of the films will go to the big screen and be shown in theaters, and some can be watched on TV or the Internet, and the rest will not be able to enter the public’s field of vision. In India, Hindi has the largest production of films, but some other languages ​​are also very popular, such as Bengali, Bhojpuri, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu language, etc. Bollywood is now a household name, synonymous with Hindi cinema.

Whenever Indians talk about why Bollywood has such a big influence in India, they can always gushing out a lot of reasons: One, a country as diverse as India needs something for people to agree on. , and Hindi, as a language mastered by most people in the country, is naturally the basis for this consensus; in addition, the Hindi film industry is the largest, richest, more playful and attractive; in reality, most of the Indians live a life of humiliation and oppression, and for them, the good stories in the movies can take them into another world, and for them, it is a comfort to withdraw from reality, even if it is brief.

Bollywood’s cultural influence has long gone beyond the film itself. For example, the Hindi film soundtrack has a very important influence on Indian pop music. Bollywood actors are constantly appearing in a wide variety of advertisements, with products covering different industries, such as cola, mobile phones, underwear and even cement. Movie stars don’t just stay on the screen, they host TV shows and promote good causes. Some became bosses, had their own cricket team, some went into politics, and even entered the cabinet. Movie stars have gone to all walks of life in India, and the ideas and images of the film industry have gradually gained popularity and are widely accepted by the Indian people. Once, politics, religion and cricket, as the common beliefs of Indians, closely linked the country; but now, there are many political contradictions, religion is also facing the same dilemma, and cricket cannot be like a movie. Indian romance is on full display. So, movies now deservedly become the important link that holds the whole of India together.

Photographer Amit Madhya captures the magic of mobile cinema in India.

In India, contradictions abound, and one of them has to do with movies – the world’s most movie-loving country has a disproportionate number of theaters and a disproportionately low population. On average, India has only 8 big screens per 1 million people, compared with 124 in the United States. In contrast to the sales of movie tickets, in 2017, a total of 1.98 billion movie tickets were sold in India, compared with only 1.24 billion in the United States during the same period. It can be seen that there is a huge contrast between the enthusiasm of Indians for watching movies and the number of theaters.

The big screen in India is not only few, but unevenly distributed. Mumbai has many screens, but Psegang has none. Take Piwell, India’s largest cinema operator, for example. It has invested more screens in Chandigarh, with a population of more than 1 million, than Rajasthan, with a population of more than 80 million, because the former is a prosperous city, while the latter is a poor area. Panka Tripathi is a Hindi film actor who grew up in Bihar (a poor region of eastern India) in the 1980s and 90s. He only went to the cinema for the first time when he was 12 years old, because the closest cinema to him was also 25 kilometers away. The mobile cinema actually solves such a problem – you don’t have to travel all the way to see a movie, just wait for the cinema to come to you.

Twenty years ago, when the journalist Tolovnik came to Psegang, there were 11,692 movie screens in India, and another 1,400 screens were used for mobile cinemas. Today, the number of screens has dropped to more than 8,000. In addition, due to the epidemic, more than 1,500 screens have been suspended, and there are only 52 mobile theaters left. The popular “Amar Touring Audio Film”, whose name implies immortality, has long since disappeared in the long river of time.

The decline of mobile theaters is mainly due to two reasons. One is the popularity of smartphones and the Internet. Today, there are at least 500 million screens in India that can be used to watch movies, but these screens are not in cinemas, but in people’s pockets. It can be seen from the use of network traffic that in India, the most common use of mobile phones is to play videos. Many streaming media are also loved by people. Motor tricycle drivers on the streets of India strap their phones to the handlebars and watch movies when they’re not carrying passengers. When night falls, one side of the street is full of colorful neon lights, and the other side is the shimmering light of the mobile phone screen reflected on the faces of people sleeping on the street, which is very embarrassing.

Another reason for the decline of mobile theaters is the failure to keep up with the times. Norangi has worked in mobile theaters since he was a child, and his diminutive stature often shuttles among the cross-legged audiences selling snacks. Now he wants to expand his business scope to stay in business, such as adding children’s games or a Ferris wheel project. He said: “The mobile cinema has become our office, where we eat and live. Although many people choose to leave, I will continue to persevere and stick to this tradition.”

Suhir Chowdhury, the founder of the new mobile cinema “Age of Cinema”, wants to take another gamble on the mobile cinema. During his childhood, Chowdhury often followed his military father to different cities. Later, he was admitted to a top engineering school in India. After graduation, he worked as an IT consultant in Latin America without any experience in the film industry. A few years ago, he returned to India to find entrepreneurial opportunities, catching up with the decline of cinemas. He believes that mobile theaters can avoid high rents and cumbersome regulatory systems. After all, it is cheaper to rent public space, and the procedures for operating licenses for mobile theaters are relatively simple. In most parts of India, only three licenses may be required to operate a mobile cinema.

Chowdhury founded Film Age in 2015 and has since purchased 37 large movable screens, each of which can accommodate 100 to 250 people. He plans to expand the screen to 100 in the short term. His ultimate goal is 3,000 yuan, of which 1/4 will be located in cities, especially in densely populated places such as train stations, and the rest will be located in areas with underdeveloped service industries, including some of the most remote areas.

The equipment of the “Cinema Age” is completely different from the mobile theaters of the Pségaon period. The truck has been upgraded, and the tent has been replaced by a yellow inflatable cube house with a recessed roof for better sound. The house is equipped with air conditioning, plastic chairs, and carpeted floors. The video picture is very clear and also comes with Dolby sound. With the lights dimmed and the movie opening, it’s easy to forget how barren the land beneath your feet is.

Tickets for “Cinema Age” range from 30 to 70 rupees, which is a good deal compared to the average of 191 rupees for Peevel’s multiplex cinemas. Chowdhury believes that if there are 3,000 big screens that can be watched by a hundred people, the ticket price is set at 70 rupees, and the attendance rate reaches 30%, which can increase the annual box office revenue of India by 122 million US dollars.

His vision is grand, but can it really be realized? In 1896, the Lumiere Brothers’ film “The Arrival of the Train” was released, which was a mere 50-second documentary showing the scene of a mail train entering the platform, but it is said that the audience at the time thought it was when they saw this scene. The real train came over and ran away in fright. By 2002, the magic of the theater was still there, when Tolovnik was in Psegang to see the joy that movies brought to the people of the small town. However, it is already 2022, all kinds of videos are overwhelming, and various playback devices are emerging one after another. Does the magic of the theater still exist?

Perhaps the magic of the theater lies in your excitement and anticipation at the moment when the lights are dimmed, your satisfaction when you buy popcorn and snacks and drinks, your joy in sharing this experience with strangers, you get rid of your phone and devote yourself to the big screen intoxication of time.

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