CINEMA PE CINEMA. The theatres. The movies. And us.
Director: Vani Subramanian
Cinematographers: Pooja Sharma, Rangoli Agarwal
Editor: Niharika Popli
Colour & Mastering: Desmond Roberts
Sound Designers: Pratik Biswas & Gangotri Mishra
Producer: Mary N Woods
63 mins | English, Hindi, Tamil | English Subtitles | 2024
For some of us, India’s single screen cinemas are a glorious architectural and cultural legacy to be celebrated, preserved and cherished. For others, they remain a place still frequented to see the movies. Yet others lament their widespread demise, remembering how within their crumbling edifices, the magic of the movies was first encountered, that thrill of being transported to worlds beyond our imagination experienced, or a lasting connection discovered with what was unfolding on the screen.
However, cinema theatres are much more than just sites of nostalgia and personal memory. In their voluminous and darkened halls, many other stories are constantly playing out. Chronicles of hope and passion as they meet harsh economic realities. Accounts of traditional mores confronting contemporary ideas and narratives. Tales of millions of people across class, caste, gender, religion and age coming together to share the familiar and unfamiliar, joy and tears, song and dance, action and emotion. And anecdotes of how, despite the intimacy of the space and the kinships formed while watching a movie together, we often remain segregated across aisles of power, culture and difference.
The word, 'cinema' in Hindi, India's dominant language, speaks of both, the theatres themselves as well as the movies. So the title of the film, Cinema Pe Cinema, can be translated loosely in multiple ways: as A Movie on the Movies/Theatres, Theatres Upon Theatres or even Movies Upon Movies. Much like the theatres themselves, the film may mean different things to different people.
Meandering through theatres and meeting audience members in small towns and big cities across India, Cinema Pe Cinema creates a memoryscape of some women and men whose lives touch, or have been touched by single screen cinemas in India. As they share reminiscences of film-going and reflect on its connections to their lives outside the theatre, we relive larger-than-life movie moments together and even visit cinema halls that can no longer welcome anyone in. Along the way, more twists in the tale emerge than we may have been prepared for. It’s showtime.
Trailer to come here
Much has been written and celebrated about the film industry in India. One of the largest, most multilingual and vibrant cinema centres of the world, it produces more than a thousand films each year. Ironically though, India is severely under-screened with just over 9000 cinema screens today, as compared to about 40,000 each in the United States and China. In the face of onerous taxes, legal complications, the dominance of multiplexes and the widespread reach of OTT platforms, 16,000 single screen theatres have shut down over the past 25 years. Of those that have survived, some have taken on new avatars, reinventing their architecture to serve new communities.
When my producer and research partner, Mary and I set out on this journey, we were drawn to the architectural and human resilience of Indian cinema halls. Designed by some of the first professionally trained Indian architects, they are representative of much more than just popular modernism. They have been symbols of family, neighbourhood, city and small town life, and even national pride. Monuments to an inclusive India, single screens were often the only spaces where audiences of different classes, castes, genders, and religions could come together.
We began to focus on the stories of the theatres themselves, and the people whose lives have been connected to them. Those who created and preserved the cinemas, and those for whom they were meant. As we met and listened to a diversity of individuals and communities in various parts of India, the contours of a rich and complex cinematic landscape began to emerge.
Finally, a decade later, we are ready to present our documentary film: Cinema Pe Cinema.