Neelam Cinema is one of three theaters built in Chandigarh, a modernist city master-planned by Le Corbusier. Built shortly after India gained independence in the early 1950s, the cinema is located in the bustling industrial area of Sector 17. Designed by architect Aditya Prakash under the guidance of Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, the modernist structure stands to this day in its original form and continues to screen Bollywood films. However, without UNESCO World Heritage protection, the future of the cinema remains uncertain. Below, British photographer Edmund Sumner discusses his experience of shooting the 960-seat cinema, the heart of the city, and an icon of Chandigarh.
I had been working in India two to three times a year since the mid-2000s and had long-heard stories of this cinema. There were few photographs of it, and many people weren’t sure if it was still open. I inquired and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was indeed operating. The manager was delighted to have me photograph the space, although I was only allowed to shoot in between screenings. Bollywood films are famous for their length and as the changeover between screenings was only 15 minutes, I spent most of my day there. This cinema reflects a time and a place, both past, present and future. Although the fate of the cinema remains uncertain, I was grateful to be able to freeze a moment in time. – Edmund Sumner