For most of the past 48 years,December to May would be the busiest months for Vijay Shankar Kulkarni,now 62,as he toured 700 km through 12 villages with his travelling version of the cinema. Through the past month,though,he has stayed home at Pusegaon,145 km from Pune,uncertainty clouding not only his future but also that of the unique medium he survives on.
Touring talkies,which brought films to the doorstep of the common man,began 106 years ago. It was in a touring talkie that Dadasaheb Phalke had screened Raja Harischandra,Indias first motion picture. Today,only 48 of them are left in Maharashtra,having peaked at over 2,000 in the 1980s.
The ongoing drought has made this year worse than ever for the medium,already struggling amid rising costs and public preferences shifting to easily accessible TV. Three years of low rainfall have now left viewers no scope for entertainment.
The jatra,or annual fair,did begin in December at Maswar,Satara,but only two touring talkies turned up,including Kulkarnis Vijay Talkies. And in the absence of an audience,they too packed up.
Since this area has not been receiving enough rainfall for three years,most others sensed the turnout would be low and gave it a miss, says Kulkarni. We have no other skill or occupation to fall back on. In 48 years,I had never seen touring talkies take a break during these six months. The crowd might have been thinner at times,but the show had never stopped,until now.
Jayawant Thorat of Aund in Karad made a collection of Rs 3,200 in 10 days,having spent Rs 3,000 on the film print and Rs 25,000 on rent,establishment and wages. Equipment such as projectors,ropes,billboards,tents and poles has lain inside a truck for a year,says Rajendra Ranade,57. We must have spent over Rs 10 lakh on these. No one is ready to buy all this.
A touring talkie comprises a tent with the moving images projected on a white cloth,watchable from both front and back. Up to six shows,primarily of Hindi and Marathi movies,would be screened in a day during the peak years. When I began,a ticket cost 30 paise. Today its Rs 20, says Kulkarni.
Talkies of today boast Dolby sound effects but nothing has checked the slump,the losses beginning around 2008 and mounting in the drought years since 2010. In 1992,my tent talkie had 3,000 viewers to watch Maherchi Sadi, says Kulkarni. In Pusegaon itself,there used to be around 15 tents till 1978-79. In fact,even in 2007-2008,each village had 10 tents,before things started to change.
Nandkumar Kulkarni,60,Vijays cousin and owner of Shriram Talkies,has written to several government officials about the struggles of touring talkies owners,but says he has received no response. The future of 10 or 15 families like those of the operator,gatekeeper,booking master,manager,cook,tent maker,light and sound system man depends on one touring talkie, he says. We have been keeping alive the culture purely because of passion for films. But given the situation we are in,touring talkies might become history soon.