Amit Madheshiya: Audiences aren’t idiots, distributors should be willing to take risks
Calling for more champions of indie cinema, The Cinema Travellers, a documentary film by Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham has been wildly successful on the indie circuit. Already screened at over a hundred film festivals and nominated for a number of awards all over the world, including the Special Mention at Cannes, this documentary on the India's travelling cinema lorries has resonated with audiences across the globe.
Given that Madheshiya is originally a photographer, some of the stills he captured during the shooting of the film are currently on exhibition at the PHOTOINK Gallery in New Delhi. Catch met up with the co-director to find out more about the project, what it was like to move from the medium of photo to that of video, and the future of indie cinema in the country.
What is The Cinema Travellers all about?
The Cinema Travellers as an idea originated almost eight years ago, when Shirley and I were in college. We were curious about how people in smaller cities watch films, considering there are no multiplexes and big screens.
We travelled across Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, until we finally came across traveling cinemas in Maharashtra. What we saw was truly fascinating! There were thousands of people who had come to watch these films! It was weird and beautiful at the same time, and we instantly knew that it would be a great story.
How would you describe the culture of cinema in rural India?
These cinema fairs have been going on for the last seven decades! During our initial research, we found that the only reason why the travelling cinemas of Maharashtra have survived thus far is because of their linkage with religion.
In fact, these fairs have now become an integral part of the cultural milieu of rural Maharashtra. People from hundreds of villages come to these fairs every year. In fact, the years that the cinemas don’t show up, there is a considerably reduced footfall at the religious fairs as well.
Did you find it difficult to transition from being a photographer to a filmmaker?
It was very difficult since I don’t consider myself a multi-tasker. While filming, I used only one camera, and there were many times I would see potential photographs, but I didn’t take them. At times, I would tell Shirley to hire someone else, as I thought this wasn’t working.
But then I realised that making a film is very different than making a photograph. Hence, what emerged was a completely new aesthetic and a fresh way of looking at things. It was very organic and I still can’t describe this aesthetic that came up.
With films such as Tithi and Court doing well, do you think Indie cinema has finally come of age in India?
The Mumbai Association of Moving Image (MAMI) is of great value not only for the filmmakers, but also for the Indian audience. Though I would like for many more festivals like MAMI to come up in India.
I feel that the indie landscape is much better now and we should make all kinds of films for audiences to choose from. The same people can watch Padmavati and Lipstick..., it’s just that distributors should pick all kinds of films.
As a filmmaker, I need people to collaborate with as I can’t reach people on my own. Hence, despite the landscape improving slightly, I still feel that we need more champions of indie cinema.
At the same time, films such as Lipstick Under My Burkha have found it hard to find a mainstream release due to the Central Board of Film Certification. Has it curbed the voice of filmmakers?
The CBFC can’t scare storytellers! I think Alankrita put up a great fight, and I remember she once told me that releasing a film online is not the point. I want to go to the theatres even more now, she had said. Tomorrow they may even ban the online space, but to choose the harder struggle and to fight against a culture of silence is vital.
Do you think travelling cinemas will soon be a thing of the past?
Well, I don’t think they have a bright future, but I wont say they are a thing of the past either. Technology has lead to corruption as people can access films on their phones and television sets.
Unfortunately, pirated copies (of films) reach people much sooner than travelling cinemas. So, yes, there is a lot of decline as they aren’t so robust anymore. However, having said that, I wish they remain, and I wish they’re still there after ten years.
(The Cinema Travellers, an exhibition of photographs is currently on view at the PHOTOINK Gallery in New Delhi, A-4 Green Avenue Street, Off Green Avenue, Church / Mall Road, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110070 India unti 21 October 2017)