Suhas stood barefoot among a maze of wires, as a cone of grainy light from his film projector shone over the few spectators gathered in the tent.
“The crowd has thinned out,” the 28-year-old said, looking at the shadowy figures cross-legged or asleep on the ground under a giant white screen held up by rope and bamboo poles.
“We used to have eight shows per day. Now it’s barely half that, even at peak times. I don’t know anything other than running the projector. I don’t know what I will do if the business goes to the wall,” he said.
Suhas, who uses only one name, isn’t the only one in a bleak mood.
Others are also talking about the end of the “touring talkies,” the traveling cinema companies that have brought low-cost entertainment to Indian villages since the days of silent movies and black-and-white.
“Today we see dinosaurs only in books,” Suhas’ boss, Anup Ashok Jagdale, who runs Anup Touring Talkies, told reporters. “When the next generation grows up in four to five years, talkies will have gone the same way as the dinosaurs.”
The mud-brick houses of Shikhar Shingnapur in southwest Maharashtra are 350km from the bright lights of India’s cosmopolitan entertainment capital, Mumbai.
The nearest permanent cinema — a single-screen affair — is in Satara, about 70km or two hours’ drive away on a winding road with an irregular bus service.
However, for two weeks every year between October and April, places like these can see Hindi-language Bollywood blockbusters, action flicks, love stories and even dubbed Hollywood releases.
Six of the 10 traveling cinema firms in western Maharashtra have pitched their tents on open ground, hoping for passing trade from the hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims who have come to town for a religious festival.
Competition can be fierce. Each film is prominently advertised on colorful posters. Announcers publicize the shows over loud speakers, often talking over one another. Loud Bollywood music blares constantly.
The pink paper tickets sell for 15 rupees to 20 rupees (US$0.33 to US$0.44) each. Shows run every three hours, 24 hours a day.
“I never miss out on an opportunity to go to the talkies,” Manisha Damble, 51, said. “It’s the only chance I get for time off from the family. Going to town for a movie is an eight to 10-hour round-trip for me.
“This saves time as it’s on the pilgrimage route,” Damble said.
Govardhan Suryavanshi, 35, is just curious.
“It’s my first pilgrimage and I wanted to see what it’s like to watch a film in a tent. I thought it would be fun,” he said.
Bollywood is taking a nostalgic look at traveling cinema, whose sweltering tents and basic facilities contrast with the air-conditioned multiplexes springing up in cities.
The film Road, Movie starring Abhay Deol follows a motley cast of characters as they roam the Indian countryside in a battered, old truck that used to carry equipment for the touring talkies.
Deol’s character, Vishnu, is loosely based on Jagdale.
In real life, the golden age of the touring talkies has passed.
“Rates have gone up and audiences have gone down,” said Sheikh Mohammed, 36, who runs Sumaid Talkies.
Daily takings of 10,000 rupees to 15,000 rupees have hardly changed in 20 years, but the cost of diesel to run the generators that power the projectors, staff overheads and land permits have all risen.
“Cable TV and pirated CDs have also made life difficult for us because crowds see the movies even before we put them on,” Jagdale said.
Add to that Internet expansion into rural areas or video-enabled 3G mobile phones and the touring talkies may soon grind to a halt.
Mohammed and Jagdale hope advertisers appreciate the chance to target women, who make up the majority of audiences and who often hold the domestic purse strings in rural India.
However, the odd advert for soap or tea isn’t enough, they said.
“If money doesn’t come in, we’re going to have to fold very soon,” Jagdale said.
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500