May 3, 1913: A red-letter day for India’s many million cinema buffs. Dadasaheb Phalke’s iconic Raja Harishchandra, India’s first full-length film, was shown to the public at Mumbai’s (then Bombay) Coronation Cinema.
The 40-minute film went on to rewrite history and pave the way for countless landmarks that Indian cinema has created and has come to be known for, across the globe. However, many cinephiles (yours truly included) from the city were left disappointed when we discovered a no-show to commemorate this day — no day-long film screenings, forget about week-long tributes to the greats of Indian cinema. Worse, except for a much-anticipated film release (the date fell on a Friday), Mumbai was left high and dry without any buzz to doff our hats to those who made us relish the joys of watching Indian cinema.
As if to rub salt on our wounds, we had to report on how favourite rival city Delhi hosted a film festival around the time (May 3, 2013 edition: The 100-year-old love affair), where the organisers re-lived the charm of watching cinema in a tent (Tambu cinema). The idea was initiated by film scholar, curator and historian Amrit Gangar, who set up a time capsule as part of the Delhi Film Festival. Why and how did Mumbai’s film fraternity, film societies miss this golden opportunity to celebrate their mentors, guides and inspiration?
One is tempted to drift into Utopia at this juncture. Imagine this: Tents erected across Oval Maidan, dressed in fairy lights with a festive vibe with daily screenings of early films from the 1920s and 1930s, all the way up to the current classics. It could have been a ticketed event — propped by kiosks that offered memorabilia and other relevant film trivia. An ideal way to commemorate, remember and instil a sense of pride about our legends especially for coming generations, born and bred in the age of multiplexes and home theatres.
Clearly, a trick has been missed in the book. It could have gone a long way into reiterating, promoting and perhaps, most importantly, reminding the city of its 100-year-old love affair with the screen. An industry that gave a unique identity to the city — a sobriquet and a tag that it continues to carry till this day.
Alas, all this seems to have been lost amid the fluff and fanfare of avoidable distractions. Mumbai ought to have put up a better showing, for Indian cinema’s sake.
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY