An Intermission/Interval is a small break given in between a movie presentation in theatres. But where does this interval came from? Why has it become so important cinematic element in Indian Cinema?

The term “intermission” dates back to the days of theatrical plays, dramas and concerts etc. Those days it would be difficult for the audience to concentrate on the play for two hours at a stretch. As well it is difficult for the drama artists to play continuously. So it used to be like a small break in between the play which allowed the audience to relax and the artists to arrange for the next act. A big curtain cloth is generally used to convey the end and start of a play/act. This curtain system is being still followed in some local cinema theatres too. This break also helped the vendors to sell their eatables to the audience and made a profit.


The same has been brought into cinema theatres when filmmakers started making films and project them to people. The two-reel system was used to project the film in earlier days of cinema. In the two-reel system, the projector has two reels – feed reel and take-up reel. Feed reel contains the film which is yet to be shown and take-up reel has the film which is already shown. The size of the reels can vary based on the projectors, but generally, films are divided and distributed in reels of up to 2000 feet (610 m, about 22 minutes at 24 frames per second). Some projectors can even accommodate up to 6000 feet (1,830 m), which minimizes the number of changeovers. This changeover of the reels would take some time for the projectionist. This little time has become an interval and gave the audience some relaxation time. This little break has provided the theatre management with a new opportunity to arrange patron stands and sell eatables to the audience. This has become a new source of income for the theatres apart from the ticket price.

Two-reel system projector @ Google images

Two-reel system projector

Later change-over system has been invented where two projectors were used to project the film simultaneously. When one reel ends, the next one is mounted on to another projector which is ready for projection. A switching mechanism will operate between the end of the one reel on the first projector and the beginning of the next reel on the second projector. This could only stop the film from being interrupted but this couldn’t stop the intermission because of the extra profits the theatre management is earning through patron stands. The two-reel system was used almost universally in all movie theatres before the advent of the single-reel system in order to be able to show feature-length films and this gave a way for the intermission to survive.

Change-over system with two projectors @ Google images

Change-over system with two projectors

In a single-reel system, there are two versions of projection systems namely the tower system and the platter system. The tower system looks like a two-reel system but the feed and take-up reels are held vertically on the axis. This can accommodate oversized spools with 12,000 foot (3,660 m) capacity or about 133 minutes at 24 frames per second which avoids the changeover of the reels. The tower is designed with four spools, two on each side with separate motors. All the reels are spliced together into one giant one. In a platter system, the individual 20-minute reels of film are also spliced together as one large reel, but the film is then wound onto a horizontal rotating table called a platter. Three or more platters are stacked together to create a platter system.

Tower system @ Google images

Tower system

Platter system © Wikipedia

Platter system

Later due to digitalisation of projections through satellite communications, the intervals have been phased out in the West. And most of the Hollywood films don’t last long more than one and half hour. Some of the long duration films will have intermissions to give the audience some relaxation time.

Intermissions have remained prevalent in Indian cinema. Indian films are typically longer compared to films from other parts of the world. In early days intermissions are due to the change-over of the film reels in the projector which eventually set new income sources for the theatre management. In turn, our Indian filmmakers had begun to write the scripts introducing a new term called “Interval Bang” into conventional filmmaking. This is a like semi climax or a midpoint of the story where the first phase ends with some suspense. This has become a most important commercial element in Indian cinema. Every typical Indian audience is used to interval bangs and always expects some sought of thrill and suspense from interval bangs.

Most of the Indian films will fit into the three act structural model of screenplay writing, where a fictional narrative can be divided into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution. There occurs a midpoint in the confrontation part of narration and this midpoint is named as interval bang by our filmmakers. Other country films (like Hollywood films) played in India will have a forceful intermission.

Three act structure © Wikipedia

Three act structure

In January 2011, Dhobi Ghat an Indian drama film made by Kiran Rao has been screened in Indian theatres without an intermission. The runtime of the film was only 95 minutes. This is for the first time an Indian film was screened without an intermission.


Delhi Belly is a 2011 Indian black comedy film written by Akshat Verma and directed by Abhinay Deo. This film has a runtime of 100 minutes. This was also released in the same year on 1 July 2011 without an intermission. This film was produced by Amir Khan Productions simultaneously along with Dhobi Ghat.


That Girl in Yellow Boots is a 2011 Indian thriller film by director Anurag Kashyap, starring Kalki Koechlin and Naseeruddin Shah. Though this film shooting was completed in the year 2010, the release has been postponed due to the film premieres at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010, followed by Venice Film Festival and several festivals worldwide including the South Asian International Film Festival. The film was released in September 2011 both in Indian and US. This film has a runtime of 99 minutes and was played in theatres without an intermission.


There are Indian films which had two intervals too. Sangam which released in 1964 made by Raj Kapoor with 238 minutes of runtime and Mera Naam Joker which released in 1970 made by Raj Kapoor with 244 minutes of runtime had two intervals.


Dinesh A

M.F.Tech Cinematography

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