When Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya take a road trip, it usually involves loads of drama and bright lights and many, many pairs of wondrous eyes.
Mumbai-based filmmaker/researcher and photographer respectively, Shirley and Amit have been taking trips to rural Maharashtra for almost four years now, following travelling tent cinemas, nomadic talkies that set up make-shift theatres in villages after crop gathering season in October. Bumper opening!
While Amit has had several exhibits, Shirley is now working on a film that captures this unique form of entertainment that has survived despite household television and digital entertainment. “The film explores how we live on through the images, memories, landscapes we create, which, however transient, remain abiding,” says Shirley, adding that the movie is currently in post production and should be ready by early next year. After the film, they will begin work on the book that is still in concept stage and has explored ideas like biographies from the travelling cinemas, a photo book of patron portraits and more.
Since there wasn’t too much academic research on the travelling cinemas of Maharashtra, Shirley and Amit relied on oral narratives, conversations, folklore, legends, archives, a few collection records from the community, Amit’s images and participatory observation across three seasons of the tent cinemas. During this time, they found that it wasn’t just regional and Bollywood films, but also dubbed Hollywood flicks that were showcased in the villages.
“We witnessed the sheer intoxication that cinema has come to mean, for many of those who run companies despite the pervasive, slick digital media. I once met a cinema owner who had been stealing gold from his family to be able to run his theatre,” Shirley recalls. "There was also a story about a woman delivering a baby in one of the tents during a film screening. Of course this is part of community folklore, but it surely points to the patronage that the cinemas enjoy.”
While you wait for the film to come out, Shirley opens her movie kit for you.
Best film collectives: FD Zone of the Films Division, Vikalp and The Root Reel offer free and regular film screenings.
Best film clubs: Look up docus@myhome, Shamiana -The Short Film Club and m.a.f.i.a on Facebook.
Best books on cinema: Of Walking in Ice: Munich -Paris 23 November -14 December 1974 by Werner Herzog for the sheer power of imagination, reflection and poetry that cinema is born from. Believing is Seeing by Errol Morris for the keen, obsessive engagement with the photographic image that the genius Morris possesses.
Best Film Festivals To Attend:
Sonapani Film Festival, Sonapani village
BYOF (Bring Your Own Film) festival, Puri
Breakthrough TRI Continental Film Festival
Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, Berwick where the quaint historic town is the perfect setting for its selection of evocative films.
The Fairground Festival organised by Cinemathque Luxembourg, Luxembourg for how they have re-imagined screenings of early cinema, and the sheer revelry of a fairground.
Photo credit: Amit Madheshiya
Getting there: Travelling Tent Cinemas of India, view images and more information here, film slated to release early next year.
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