chapter  22
13 Pages

Cinema as social space: The case of the multiplex

WithAdrian Athique

Lawrence Liang has argued that there cannot be a ‘distinct account of cinema or cinematic spaces, which is not at the same time an account of the history of the city, of the experiences of modernity and of the conflicts that define the very occupation of these spaces’ (Liang 2005: 366). As such, any critical account of the cinema hall must be informed by India’s great cultural diversity, its colonial and socialist pasts, its dense and contested spatialities, its vibrant audiovisual culture, the strengths and contradictions of its mixed economy and its complex arrangements of civil and political society. In thinking about the implications of the cinema as a public space in India, it is crucial to recognize that in the early twentieth century the cinema hall was a thoroughly ‘modern’ addition to public life, not simply in terms of its technological apparatus but in its reordering of social space. In a context where ‘respectable’ women may not have appeared in public at all, and where temples, residential areas and water sources were often subject to exclusive access by certain caste, faith and class groups, the gathering together of a diverse public within a single social space appears to have represented a radical departure from existing social norms. At the same time, however, the space inside cinema halls was always regulated by different classes of seating, typically ranging from ‘floor class’ to ‘bench class’ to ‘chair class’ (Barnouw and Krishnaswamy 1980: 46).