The Hindi film industry needs to do its bit to savour its long-gone landmarks in the city of its origins
Last week, this paper featured a cinema trail that took readers on a 100-year-rewind trip. It retraced the steps of many locations across South and Central Mumbai, where Dadasaheb Phalke's historic Raja Harishchandra was screened in 1913.
We must admit, it was an ambitious idea, especially with scant respect given to film landmarks (read: New Excelsior and Capitol). With cine historian Rafique Baghdadi playing guide on this route, our reporter set off in the hope to get a sense of the time and space when Mumbaikars first got a taste of the world of movies that brought them awe and joy.
Much to our dismay, we discovered that these one-time landmarks have all disappeared in their original form. In its place, new constructions have emerged with no link to the past. Worse, there were no markers to give the modern-day fan an inkling of the long-gone legacy. It was a googly for this eternal optimist, who was hoping that in Indiana Jones'-style, a surviving lamppost or a road sign would be found. There were none, the reporter informed us. No epitaphs to hail the great Coronation, Olympia or Majestic cinemas. Instead teeming traffic and chaotic junctions greeted us in the present.
Billions of rupees get pumped into Bollywood every year. The city of stardust and starry-eyed dreams, of flashbulbs and flashy premieres is too busy looking ahead. Yet, in this mad frenzy to make a mark, the past seems to have been forgotten. A few years ago, film archivist mentioned in jest, "Our industry's idea of saluting the past is by conferring lifetime achievement awards to veteran film stars. Our rich body of work from the past needs to be showcased better. After all, the film industry is integral to Mumbai's fabric." We nodded in agreement.
Today, city tours pack off tourists to see Film City, Mannat or Jalsa (no disrespect to Big B or SRK) and yet, so much as a mention about some of our earliest, still-on-operation cinemas like Eros and Regal isn't on the itinerary. "Why can't your cinemas use their lobby space as film galleries of yesteryear hits and memorabilia from the early 1900s?" asked a US citizen while on a city visit. We loved the idea — small but smart ways to cherish our cinematic past. We need to move beyond the odd film festival and panel discussion.
Mumbai's love affair with the movies will never cease to be. Yet, its step-sisterly treatment towards celebrating the glory of its origins — the springboard that's brought it into the spotlight in the present, doesn't see a script change. We hope the curtains don't come down altogether.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones... wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana Send your feedback to mailbag @mid-day.com