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January 14, 2019

5 Glorious Heritage Film Theatres In Mumbai That You Can Still Visit

Text by Shubham Ladha

In an age of movie multiplexes, we look back at the single-screen theatres of yore, where the experience wasn’t limited to just the film

Edward Theatre

Opened in 1914 in Kalbadevi, Edward theatre — named after King Edward V, who had visited Mumbai the same year — is an Art Deco gem in Mumbai’s crown that initially started out by staging plays. The 509-seater hall still has a music pit beneath the stage and two box seats on either side that are reminiscent of the ambience of the performances of the past. Till a couple of years ago, it only played B-grade films, but the theatre gained popularity by featuring foreign cinema — such as the offerings of Wolfgang Becker and Jean Luc Godard — weekly, in association with the Enlighten Film Society. While no physical renovations are in order, the theatre’s style is beautiful, albeit crumbling. The theatre’s most glorious run is said to have been because of the 1975 hit, Jai Santoshi Maa, as the film ran to house-full shows for a remarkable 48 weeks.

Liberty Cinema

The epitome of rococo architecture and style in Mumbai, Liberty — which opened in 1949 next to Marine Lines Station — was named so to celebrate India’s Independence from the British. From Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949) to Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! (1994) and even the first international film that was screened in India, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948) an adaptation of the novel by Luigi Bartolini, the theatre has played host to many premieres. In 2012 though, the theatre halted screening films, but the projectors awoke again in 2016, for Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal (2016) starring Aamir Khan. In all its time, Liberty hasn’t lost its sheen. It’s wooden carvings, red carpeted-floors and the vintage-style marquee connect us to an era of bygone charm. And while the outsides remain quaint, the technology inside has been upgraded to showcase films with absolute clarity. No wonder it’s being revered as a Grade 2 Heritage site.

“I love the fact that Liberty and Regal are still standing, even though contemporaries like Sterling and Metro have gone the way of the multiplex, says filmmaker, actor and film critic Siddhant Adlakha. “This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but multiplex brands seem to pay less and less attention to the actual movie part of movie-going, while classic, single-screen cinemas still have the capacity (and manpower) to ensure presentation is key.”

Matterden CFC (earlier called Deepak Talkies and Saraswati Talkies)

Built as Saraswati Talkies in 1926, the name Deepak Talkies was only being used since the ‘60s. Located in Lower Parel, it used to be the entertainment hub for people from almost all backgrounds, from the British officials to the mill owners and labourers. With so many people in attendance, it would also host live performances and acts, as the audience sat on the floors, chairs and benches. Through time, though, this structure made of stone, teakwood and Mangalorean tiles started to become rundown, it would only screen Bhojpuri, Hindi and Marathi movies, till 2014, when it got a makeover. Now, the 20,000 square. foot. theatre — administered by Carnival Cinemas — while still hosting other events, gathers a prime audience for foreign films, as they’ve tied up with Enlighten Film Society as well. “I love the intimacy of Matterden; unlike most chain theatres, the new Carnival management seems to have put an emphasis on picture and sound that most multiplexes don’t seem to care about,” says Adlakha.

Metro Cinema

From hosting the very first Filmfare Awards in 1954 to becoming the first rooftop solar-powered multiplex in 2018, Metro Cinema has surely come a long way. Built by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1938, the theatre only showcased the production house’s films initially, but after an Indian administration took over in the ’70s, a slew of premieres put the theatre at the top of Bollywood’s theatre roster. While in 2006, it was renovated under Adlabs and further ahead, was reopened as Metro INOX. But the only change that was brought about was in the management. The interiors with the Belgian chandeliers, marble floorings and old projectors, a glorious part of the theatre, are reminiscent of its successful past. The only tweaks that the theatre embraced were technological advancements that keep it thriving in the modern-day film industry, such as cutting-edge projectors, plush seats and wide screens…all ideal for any immersive film experience.

“For me Metro was the go-to-theatre during my growing up years, for the simple reason my mom was a doctor at Bombay Hospital and it was a hop, skip and jump away,” says Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena, Executive Editor of Verve. “My earliest memory of seeing a movie there, was a run of Battle of Britain — and my parents speak of carrying out a squealing under ten year old (me) who got frightened during the war sequences. That was the only time I must have missed a part of a movie while at Metro. Because it was so much more than just about the film. It was a social occasion, the entire experience of being in a comfortable elegant space.”

Regal Cinema

Just as Mumbai’s a city with layers of character from across diverse backgrounds, Regal is the result of culturally cooperative work — from Indian landlords and an English architect to a Czechoslovakian artist for its interiors — which helped open it to the public in 1933. What also marks its brilliance is in technological advancements; from pioneering cinemascope in India to efficient neon lights. It was also the first centrally air-conditioned theatre, an achievement which outranked itself in the country’s tropical climate. Like a new dawn for movie-goers, the theatre’s sunburst motifs — a famous symbol in Art Deco architecture — line the interiors beautifully. For its time, going to watch a movie at this theatre was quite simply, a regal experience.

“Regal might not be around much longer, which is a shame considering it’s been a part of the city for over 85 years,” says Adlakha. “There’s something enriching about a collective experience wherein a thousand or so people congregate, without the distraction of seat service or picture mis-alignment, to watch something in what feels like an ornate movie palace.”

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