I will survive

The iconic Liberty theatre building started being made in 1947, the year of Independence, and hence, its name

The Liberty Cinema at Marine Lines remains stubbornly single in an age of multiplexes. The single screen movie house stands amidst the hurly-burly of Bombay Hospital, which is adjacent, a number of eateries nudging shoulders with pharmacies.

Nazir Hoosein, owner, on the resplendent staircase of Liberty, the Showplace of the Nation. Pics/Suresh KK
Nazir Hoosein, owner, on the resplendent staircase of Liberty, the Showplace of the Nation. Pics/Suresh KK

Nearby, apples, oranges and watermelons have the life squashed out of them, thanks to the plethora of juice stalls in the area. Just the proverbial stone’s throw away is SoBo’s well known khau galli where the office crowd washes down plates of pav bhaji with ganna juice.

The invitation card of the opening of Liberty, on March 1949. The building began being made in 1947
The invitation card of the opening of Liberty, on March 1949. The building began being made in 1947

Liberty looks at the goings on with a cynical, been-there-done-that eye and a defiant air, for amidst the multiplex boom, this cinema born during the Independence movement is steadfast in its refusal to cave in to the multiplex trend. As the juice machines whirr outside, Nazir Hoosein (73), owner, offers his guests a memorable cup of filter coffee.

Everything about Liberty spells taste and class
Everything about Liberty spells taste and class

Somehow the redolent smell of the interiors, rich, red carpet, dark wood which is Canadian Cedar and Burma Teak, imposing mirror and the grand sweep of the staircase, seem to melt into that cup, making it a classical, elegant cup of coffee, full of old world charm just like Liberty.

A traffic policeman is at work as a boy sells flags at the signal in South Mumbai. Pic/Bipin Kokate
A traffic policeman is at work as a boy sells flags at the signal in South Mumbai. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Hoosein smiles, as he says the first shovel put into the earth, for building this theater was in 1947, “That was of course the year of Indian Independence and so the name Liberty.” Hoosein rewinds, “In those days, there were mostly men who would come in to see the movies.

Going to the cinema was a real treat or outing for people. I remember tickets in four categories, 10.5 annas (cheapest) and the most expensive was three rupees.” Hoosein also recalls fans sleeping through the night in queue for tickets to the movie, Mother India.

“I have seen mild lathi charges at movie premieres as the stars would descend at the theatre and the fans go crazy to see them in the flesh. The police came in to control them. The world was a different place at that time.”

Yet, it is the here and now and survival for this heritage structure, that is important. Hoosein says the single screen cinema is reinventing itself, by renting out its space not just for movies. “It can be used to host festivals, we host the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) festivals like Kashish, for example.

It can also be given out for theater performances, to schools to hold special days and even events like AGMs and classical movie concerts,” says Hoosein who is quick to add though that, “I am particular about the crowd that comes into the theater they must have respect and appreciation for the classical pieces inside (seats, carpets, woodwork, couches and even the lights) and not damage them.

It may be difficult but I know that Liberty will continue to hold its own,” signs off Hoosein, even as the mirror near the curve of the staircase reflects the light shining in his eyes, as he talks about the future of: ‘Messrs Liberty Cinema: Showplace of the Nation’ as his visiting card, evocatively states.

To book Liberty for events, performances and programmes: Contact on email: Errol Lobo at errol_liberty@hotmail.com or 2208 4521/6631 6896

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