Unique Tent theatre gives feel of early silent cinema halls

NEW DELHI: A unique aspect of the Centenary of Indian cinema held in the capital was a make-shift mini-theatre named ‘Thambu Cinema‘ and housed in a tent-shaped Gulshan Mahal in the lobby of the Siri Fort Auditorium. The Thambu Cinema saw houseful screenings everyday even though the films screened were all from the silent era. Gulshan Mahal is the name of the building in Mumbai in which the Museum of Cinematic Arts is coming up.

Film Division Zone‘s Picture Palace called Gulshan Mahal had a seating capacity of twenty five (on durries and benches) in a specially erected tent within the ambiance of the larger exhibition evoking an experience of the silent cinema. When the first moving pictures arrived, the world was not ready with cinema houses to show them, so tents were erected in open areas for the public at large. The tents were grandly called Picture Palaces, according to film historian Amrit Gangar who curated this section.


Jamshetji Framji Madan, a Parsi entrepreneur was fascinated by the new invention and he ordered projectors from Pathe. With the projectors he set up regular ‘bioscope‘ shows in tents at key points in Calcutta, including the Maidan. In Bombay‘s Azad Maidan also such tents were set up. While tents, cinemas in the cities were becoming fairly common, small towns and villages where most of Indian population lived, were untouched by the ‘new wonder‘. But soon tents reached there with travelling theatre companies. And so did the moving picture, the cinema.

One of the earliest itinerant showmen was Abdulally Essoofally, who in 1901, travelled from one Asian country to another. His travelling outfit included a projector, some cans of films, a folding screen and a tent. Sometime his tent was large enough to accommodate1000 people. Between 1908 and 1914, Abdulally‘s touring cinemas had covered most parts of India.

Some of the films shown were Shri Krishna Janma (1918), Lanka Dahan (1917), Kaliya Mardan; and Raja Harishchandra by the father of Indian cinema, D G Phalke; Gulami nu Patan (Fall of Slavery) (1931) by Shyam Sundar Agarwal; Banga Darshan, Diler Jigar (Gallant Hearts) (1931) by G P Pawar; The Light of Asia (1925) by Franz Osten; and two quickies Watan ki Abru and Hum Ek Hain.

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