Friday, May 30, 2014

The Ma Win Rama - Ban Rai Village, Sukhothai, Thailand

About seven kilometers outside of Sukhothai City is the village of Ban Rai. Like many such villages in the lower north of Thailand, Ban Rai owes its existence to its past as a trading hub for agricultural goods. The local market provided the gravity that pulled farmers and farm hands in from the surrounding fields. A town, in all its bucolic modesty, sprang up around it. 

In the middle decades of the 20th century, the jungles of upper Thailand were being felled to make way for the expansion of market-based agriculture. On account of that, local business entrepreneurs who dealt in agricultural products and services tended to prosper from the increased production, which became known the world over as the "Green Revolution." 

In 1972, the owner of the Ban Rai's market, having profited handsomely from Green Revolution expansion, decided to diversify his business holdings. With a high volume of foot traffic already in place, he surmised that building a movie theater on the grounds of his market would be a natural fit. Similar market place-movie theater combinations were being developed across Thailand in response to an increased appetite for film among the populous. 

Home electrification in rural Thailand, it should be stated, had yet to become widespread by the early 1970's. If villagers living in the vicinity of Ban Rai wanted a dose of modern entertainment they would have to travel all the way to Sukhothai City for a movie theater. Television and other technologies predicated on having an electrical source were not yet an option for most. Opening a theater in Ban Rai thus made practical sense. 

Enter the Ma Win Rama.

The Ma Win Rama: A simple yet sleek and elegant mid-century Thai movie theater. It's place white facade subtly accented by its name in red, plaster letters on its peak. 

For the first 20 years of its existence, the Ma Win Rama was predictably successful. To nearby villagers, it was the most immediate entertainment venue; one of the only local spaces that offered a window into a another world, or a fictitious refection of their own. 

But as houses got wired for electricity, and different mediums for viewing movies became more widespread, the Ma Win Rama began to lose customers, if not its standing as an important community gathering point.

In the mid-1990's the theater was closed. The owner, however, invested in a tour bus company which now connects Sukhothai with points near and far. Win Tour is its name. 

Veranda-inspired lobby area, a common signature of many Thai stand-alones.

Ticket booth

Wooden, bi-fold doors, nailed shut.

Plaster signage

For a more detailed, if not entertaining background on the Ma Win Rama, please watch the short documentary below:

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