How the spotlight moved away from Capitol

Located opposite the magnificent Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building, few might be aware that Capitol Theatre was built even before CST (then Victoria Terminus) came into existence. Once the centre of cinematic pride in the city, the theatre completed 133 years since its founding, this December, but as ironic as it is, today, the CST has become the pride, while Capitol, just a platform to capture it.

Capitol Cinema

Capitol Theatre, today has creepers sprouting from its outer facade. While the polluted air outside add a fresh layer of dust and grease to its once-magnificent walls, the air inside is bad enough to give anyone an asthmatic attack. “Ventilation is the biggest problem,” says Salim Abdullah, one of the directors of Globe Theatre Pvt Ltd, the company that owns Capitol. “The per day cost of ventilation would be more than what we would make by selling tickets,” he adds.

The Capitol Cinema still stands majestically at DN Road, but the only pride left for it is a place as a heritage site in the MCGM’s list. Pics/ Bipin Kokate

The Capitol screened its last show, the Suniel Shetty starrer, Shastra, sometime between 2005 and 2006, shutting its Century projector forever at the end of the 3 pm show. Soon, everything, from the torn leather seats, the creaking fans, to its projectors, were moved out of the theatre and sold to interested clients. A magnificent cinematic journey came to an abrupt halt. The last few years have seen several of the single screen theatres making attempts to revive their old glory — Liberty doesn’t screen films, but organises cultural events; Edward Theatre in Kalbadevi has been witnessing a fresh rush of musical and audio-visual performances; one would have expected others to follow suit including the Capitol, which is also one of the oldest theatres in town. But it didn’t.

From the inside, it looks magnificent, still. Tall pillars support the balcony, with its wooden raised platforms, fine craftmanship on its railings, and a beautiful dome a few feet above one’s head. It’s easy to imagine the time when English plays were staged here or Bollywood film were premiered here. Imagine the scene, when to excite audiences, its theatre owners brought a baby elephant to the stage. At ground zero, there seems to be a disinterest among the current staff, old and angry, like the theatre, refusing to entertain any outsider. “You want to rent the theatre, you talk to us.

No discussion about history or anything else,” commands Mr Varda, who we are told is the manager at Capitol, refusing to give his first name or designation. Even JJ Tata, member, Board of Directors, Globe Theatre, who sits at Capitol, refused to comment, let alone talk about its rich history. “The place is shut. There’s nothing to talk,” he said. We were lucky to at least get a glimpse of the inside.

To add to its agony, the only pride, left, is a place in Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee’s heritage list, which according to Abdullah is also its biggest problem. “It’s a heritage structure so you can’t tamper with anything. Even if we want to do something, the necessary licensing will be difficult. The place needs a serious makeover but there are too many hurdles (licenses) in our way,” he says.

In April 2013, Indian cinema will complete 100 years, a feat that would have been impossible had it not been for talkies like Capitol, and several others, who nurtured the film industry during its formative years. Capitol’s ticket counter today is lying in the darkness and the theatre, probably frustrated thinking about its uncertain future, is going the way of its ageing staff.

Bits from history
> Capitol (known as Gaiety till 1879) was built by CS Nazir (Nadir), a Parsi theatre company owner, to entertain the elite Anglo-Indian patrons and Europeans living in Colaba, Byculla, Mazgaon and Girgaum, who found theatres in and around Grant Road too down market for their liking.
> Designed by an architect named Campbell, the stage dimensions of Gaiety Theatre were 70x40 feet, the curtain, 22 feet high, carried an image of Black Bay with its new public buildings — the High Courts, the Clock Tower, and the Secretariat — from the Malabar Point.
> Globe Theatre Pvt Ltd rented the theatre in 1926. They added a dome to the ceiling and relaunched it as Capitol, a talkie, on January 20, 1929.
> Capitol used to run two daily shows (10 am to 2 pm and 3 pm to 7 pm) and tickets were priced at R35 (for balcony) and R25 (for stalls). 

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