Shirley Abraham

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year

This project focuses on a unique system of film projection and reception––the tambu talkies or the tent cinemas. These tambu talkies travel with the jatras, the annual religious fairs hosted by nodal villages in Maharashtra. Writer and researcher Shirley Abraham will construct a history of the tambu talkies in Maharashtra by recording the oral narratives of tambu cinema owners and distributors, and she will excavate documents and other tambu talkies ephemera. Her collaborator is photographer Amit Madeshiya who will document the current state of the touring tent talkies. His visuals will capture the audience profile, the ingenious projection systems, the innovative advertising strategies and, most importantly, the sheer magic of the tambu talkies that draws hundreds of people to the jatra every year.

The research will trace the development of a symbiotic relationship between a new cultural experience of the tambu talkies and the old tradition of the jatras. While the researcher will map the distribution cycle, the exhibition patterns and gather old photographs in order to create a narrative of the past, photographer Madeshiya will document the journey of two tambu cinemas, namely Krishna Koena Talkies from Satara in western Maharashtra and Novelty Talkies from Jalgaon in central Maharashtra.

Abraham raises important question pertaining to the evolution of formats. The research will also examine how the physical organisation of the tambus changed with time. The researcher will first establish what the early formats were and then investigate progressions in tent structures, sound systems, the range of projectors and screens, and the modifications in the trucks and makeshift ticket windows.

Finally, the research will yield insights into the effect of the booming cable T.V. industry and mushrooming VCD parlours on the tambu talkies today. Abraham and Madeshiya will also study the impact of Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Chitrapat Mandal’s attempt to resurrect the tambu cinemas as ‘rural multiplexes’ in collaboration with corporate houses.

This project will fill a gap in documentation of the tambu talkies and their impact on Indian cinema, mapping and analysing the relationship of the tambu to the jatras from the 1940s to the present. Apart from constructing a history of the tambu talkies, this project will yield a set of oral narratives and exhaustive photo documentation of the tambu talkies in its current form.