Ever since 1896 when Bombay audiences saw the first films to be screened in Asia, early Indian cinema halls were remade spaces, created from hotels, tents, saloons, boxing rings, and live performance venues. Embedded in the stories of Indian cinema halls are acts of repurposing and reimagining. These histories need to be reclaimed and reinvented if the rich tangible and intangible heritages of Indian single-screen cinemas are to survive and thrive in the 21st century. Part of an endangered Indian modernism encompassing Art Deco and Brutalist architectures, these cinemas include picture palaces and modest halls built in India’s metropoles, small towns, and villages before and after independence. Disappearing along with the buildings are the paradoxical cultures of inclusive yet segregated and conservative yet transgressive communities created within India’s single-screen cinemas.  The movie houses showing films in regional languages that have long nurtured a working-class culture of urban leisure, solidarity, and identity are especially imperiled. Focusing on Mumbai’s single-screens as well as some US cinemas, Mary N. Woods, Cornell University professor emerita of urban and architectural history, will explore strategies already adopted to save these theaters and new ideas for public and private initiatives to ensure a future for this past of modern India.

This event is part of the Robin Lynn 
’70 Urban Studies Speaker Series and is made possible through the generosity and vision of Robin Lynn ’70. The series explores topics at the intersection of politics, public policy, and aesthetics.

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