Nandita Raman’s Cinema Play House series explores aging single-screen theaters in India. Once bustling with eager moviegoers, many of these cinema halls have seen their existence threatened by the rise of home video in the late 1980s and by the emergence of multiplexes. Raman’s elegiac, black-and-white photographs document these vanishing, near magical communal spaces.
The theaters in these photographs were built in the first half of the twentieth century, an era during which film in India blossomed from a minor attraction to a national obsession. In the heyday of such cinema halls, their large auditoriums would fill with boisterous crowds who would participate in the screenings by cheering on their favorite film stars, partaking in candid discussions, and singing along with a film’s musical numbers.
Unlike the homogenized multiplex cinemas that are rapidly replacing them, many single-screen cinemas were designed by their owners rather than corporate architects, resulting in curious architectural details and unexpected idiosyncrasies that bestowed a unique character to each space.
While some single-screen cinema halls still struggle to remain in business, many have closed their doors and fallen into disrepair. Raman’s photographs guide viewers behind the scenes and into the public areas of these timeworn spaces, revealing traces of both audiences and cinema hall workers, and evoking memories of a vibrant era for moviegoers.