Photographers' Blog

Inside Kabul’s theaters

By Danish Siddiqui

I believe that sometimes you learn about a city and its society from its local cinemas and the genre of films they choose to screen.

Coming from the heart of the Indian film industry in Mumbai, popularly known as Bollywood, I had no idea what to expect from the cinemas in Kabul. I had several questions on my mind. Did families go out to watch films or was it only a getaway for men? Is watching films at the cinema as popular as it is in other parts of the world? What kind of films entice the Afghan cinema-goer?

There are only half a dozen cinemas in the whole of Kabul. Most of the theaters like Cinema Park and Ariana Cinema were destroyed during the civil war and were later shut down by the Taliban who had banned, among other things, going to the movies. Now every theater has three films shown every day with the first one starting at 10a.m.

Bollywood films from India, Pashto films from Pakistan and occasionally dubbed Hollywood films are played in Kabul’s theaters, but the genre of film is always the same; Afghan movie fans love action films. At every cinema I shot and interviewed in, action films ruled the roost.

SLIDESHOW: KABUL CINEMA

The owners of all the cinemas told me Afghans loved Indian films but due to piracy were not able to screen the films, which usually hit the markets within days of their official releases.

Simple people, proud actors

The inhabitants of a Caribbean fishing village with no cinema, have become movie stars.

When I was invited to attend the screening of the movie “The Kid Who Lies” (El Chico que Miente) in the same village on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast where it was filmed, I had no doubt it would be a fantastic experience.

I could just imagine the excitement of its inhabitants seeing themselves and their familiar places on the big screen. But when I reached Ocumare I discovered that this was a place that hadn’t seen a movie screening since its last theater closed 40 years ago, and that this one would be truly special.

India’s touring cinemas under threat

The sleepy Indian village of Ond comes alive for a week every year when trucks loaded with tents and projectors reach its outskirts. The tents are pitched in open fields, converting the trucks into projection rooms for screening the latest Indian blockbusters to exuberant villagers, who otherwise have few chances to see a film at all.

Photographer Danish Siddiqui travels to these “talkies” to document the decades-old tradition. View the multimedia below for an in-depth look or click here to read the full story.

Travelling Talkies from Vivek Prakash on Vimeo.

Come, fall in love

I first encountered the 52-year-old Maratha Mandir movie theater while I was on one of my walks to explore Mumbai. Being new to the city, I do this often. It was just a casual walk down the lanes of the city when I saw a huge billboard promoting a film outside the cinema. The billboard proudly advertised it as the longest-playing film in Indian history.

A cinema goer buys a ticket for Bollywood movie "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" (The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride), starring actor Shah Rukh Khan, inside Maratha Mandir theatre in Mumbai July 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The film “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride), starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, is a simple romantic film shot in Europe and India, where a boy meets a girl and falls in love with her – girl is about to get married in India – boy takes the journey from Europe to India to win her over.

I still remember when the film was released in 1995, it became an instant hit amongst the youth. Fifteen years down the line it’s unthinkable that people still love to watch it and in a cinema to boot!