When quiz about the history of Indian Cinema the first thought that passes my mind is of the Indian realistic silent film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ (1993) based on the legend of Raja Harishchandra narrated in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. And the rest is history (literally!). But do you know the film was premiered on April 21, 1913 at the Olympia Theatre in Grant Road for a selected audience and later at Girgaon’s Bombay’s Coronation Cinema for public?
Mumbai, the city of dream, where thousands of youngsters from different parts of the country throng to be a part the Bollywood, has over the years experience the evolution of cinema. And I got an opportunity to explore the story of theatre, drama in the 19th century Bombay and the evolution of cinema with changing lifestyles that connect the city even today.
The walk was organised by Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2017 as part of the Fox Life heritage walks and curated by Kruti Garg, a restoration architect. The most interesting part, the walk included a tour inside the recently revamped iconic Royal Opera House and its story of a phoenix rising from the ashes.
The trail which was supposed to begin at 4:30 started at around 5 pm due to some technical error. But that didn’t hold back the spirit of the participants and also the team made sure that the participants are comfortable and safe. Nearly 80 people gathered for the cinema trail to know about cinema, theatre and the only Opera House which survives in the country.
Well, the entertainment industry didn’t start with Bollywood or cinema or motion pictures, in fact it all started with bunch of people moving around the city and coming together for performances. In 1845, the fortified town with many heritages structures and house for many elite people including officers and businessmen, but no source of entertainment existed and then came the Bombay Amateur Theatre in 1847, which performed all over the city.
The trial began at Alfred Theatre near Kamathipura and made us familiar with several now-dilapidated theatres such as Nishant Talkies, New Roshan Talkies and Moti Talkies, all located in the Grant Road and Sandhurst Road area.
The theatre started as Rippon in 1880 was renamed as Alfred in 1932. You can still see the name inscribed in the stain glass. The theatre currently screens only soft porn movies.
Daulat Talkies began as performance space and over the years by 1920 when cinema became hit it started dying down. To keep it live the place got converted into cinema house.
New Roshan Talkies
The theatre was opened in 1930 by a Parsi family. The building which was once had detailed designs and embellishments is now camouflaged with China mosaic on it. The place is now turned into a cinema hall and doesn’t screen many movies. Today New Roshan Talkies survives by selling tickets tickets as low as Rs 18.
Nishaat Cinema was started on August 15, 1952, as a play house. The cinema house is now owned by Neeta Nihalani, wife of Director Pehlaj Nihalani. The now turned cinema house screens only Bhojpuri films and may cost you Rs 15 or Rs 20.
The cinema hall is revamped nearly 10 years ago and is in a better state as compared to the other theatres in the area. If you want to enjoy the good old 1980s or 90s movies this is where you have to be. Ticket rates? Less than Rs 20.
Thus we can say the era marked the decline of one type of entertainment and the rise of the other. Most of the theatres have gone through a lot of changes due to unavailability of funds and non-interest by the owners. And today in the era of multiplexes, the single screen theatres are taking efforts for survival.
Royal Opera House
Post all the theatre visits we headed to the century-old Royal Opera House. If you observe the place you may find musical instruments making appearance on the architectural structure.
King George V inaugurated the Opera House on October 16, 1916 when it was still under construction. And hence Opera House was granted the prefix ‘Royal’ to its name.
The place has its share in the making of our very own ‘Kapoor Khandaan’. In early 1940s Prithvi Raj Kapoor started his theatre company and they would keep moving from one place to another for performances. The group when in Mumbai used to perform in Opera House and this is how Raj and Shashi Kapoor and all the Kapoor children had grown up watching the plays and also being part of some.
The place also has a love story to its credit. Shashi Kapoor during the screening of ‘Deewar’ happened to see Jennifer Kendal in the audience and fell in love with her.
Over the years the place has seen several historical artists performing live including Deenanath Mangeshkar, father of Lata Mangeshkar.
In 1935 the building was taken over by Ideal Pictures and got completely converted into a Cinema Hall. Unfortunately, it closed in 1980s. The shift form theatres to single screen to watching movies on VCRs at home and later multiplexes taking all the charge, Opera House was closed down as they could not make enough business. It was later bought by the current owner Maharaja and Maharani of Gondal as a commercial venture and in 2009 the family took a call to renovate it.
“I have very closely worked with the revamp project and associated with it since the start. When we started and entered the building it was exactly like a movie scene paving path through insects and termites and things crawling over you and structures falling. And no way could one enter to the second floor of the building. The building with structurally put to safe measures and it was consolidated and then the clients decided to get the complete vibe of baroque interior and high opulence theatre in the city and this is what has been brought back to the original form,” said Garg during the walk.
You may also find a chandelier in the Royal Opera House from the philanthropist David Sassoon’s home. What I find unjustifiable is that even though we may not have the money or recourses to maintain heritage structures, we do not even bother to archive information correctly. If you do go to the Elphiston library at Kala Ghoda, where the Bombay City Archives our housed you will know what I am talking about. But, for now, I’ll leave all that aside, and, delve into the pleasures of imagining a much more glamorous, elegant, and, flourishing time of city that seemed as though it never slept.