A Brief Glimpse at Moviegoing in India from Someone Who’s Lived There

From Gary Lee Parks, THS Director, West region

It is rare that we THS members get a peek at what moviegoing was, or is like in countries outside the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Most of us are aware of the vast output of Indian film companies, but how often do we read about the moviegoing experience there? The following is excerpted, with permission, from a very recent email conversation with my friend, Katherine Siebel Kunhiraman, who has spent many years living in India and whose husband is Indian. Together they have run a school for Indian classical dance in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. In this email, she related a little bit about the Indian moviegoing experience:

My mind took a little journey back to seeing movies in India. Once in Calcutta I went to see a movie at “Krishna Talkies,” and they had curtained sections for people in purdah! [women veiled and separated from the men–Ed.]
They would show advertisements first, which they used to do here too. The more swanky places had very fantastic interiors–very velvet–with sculptures vaguely imitating the old temple sculptures, mostly heroes and heroines kissing, which they were not allowed to do in the actual films!
Then about a mile from the dance school was a large thatched hut, where for 20 cents you sat in a chair, 10 cents on a bench, and 5 cents on the sand in front. I saw some of the worst movies ever, including American films nobody ever heard of here that did everything possible in their power to cement the false images of America as a Land of Sodom, with streets paved in gold. We called it “The Tent,” but I forget the real name. The cane chairs harbored large populations of blood sucking bedbugs. The first show was at 11pm when everyone at home had turned off their lights and gone to bed, and there was enough current to run the projectors. At 2am we would walk back, sweating from every pore even at that hour. At last they built something more up to date–the Eros Theatre–that had all chairs and benches, no sand. It was torn down about 30 years ago, but in the ways of the East, is still named as a landmark for taxi drivers. Now despite TV and DVDs, going to the cinema is such a big deal, you absolutely have to buy tickets in advance. I went to a Harry Potter movie a few years ago and there was not an empty seat in the place. Now they are into multiplexes, and the decor is very basic.

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