"In the years of my romance with cinema, a Hindi film without songs was unthinkable. So when we decided on this walk to pay a tribute to these beautiful cinema halls of south Bombay, some music to go with it became imperative," says ex-Indian Navy commander Paramjit Singh.
Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, and Sanjeev Kumar at a charity show of Sholay at New Excelsior on August 14, 1975, extracted from the theatre’s album. The shut-down cinema features on the walk. File Pic
Later this month, Singh will be leading a walk that will explore iconic standalone cinema halls like Liberty, Capitol, Excelsior and Edward. Unlike other walks that cover these theatres, this one, called Walkie Talkie, will feature original songs written and composed as a tribute to these places, some of which are by Singh himself. He explains that the heritage tours are now popular only with a small group of people who patronise the arts and he wanted to make the walk more open and entertaining.
Ex-navy commander Paramjit Singh has published a book of poetry in Hindi while in service
"The standard tour format has become boring even for people who like to go for walks. Usually, people crowd around the speaker, the speaker typically rattles off facts and figures and some obscure details about the place and people move on. Art Deco architecture (which is the dominant style of these cinemas) just by itself won’t be interesting to everyone, but Art Deco woven with stories will be appealing to most people interested in history or art even a little bit," Singh says.
The grand stage and screen at Liberty Cinema. File Pic
So the ex-commander who has a published book of poems in Hindi, decided to weave in four kinds of stories into the experience — history of the structure, his own experiences as a young Naval officer living on a ship who loved frequenting these cinemas in the 1960s, the element of novelty and drama of the buildings and the original music compositions. "All those joining us will be given earphones and the songs will be played from a central machine. We are hoping that we will be able to enter all the theatres but that will also depend a little on the situation on the day. The journey will culminate with a surprise film at Liberty," reveals the 55-years old.
Capitol Cinema. Pic/ Bipin Kokate
Going back to what he calls cinema’s golden era, he recounts an incident when he got into trouble with the police in front of Capitol. "It was when Amitabh Bachchan was emerging as hero and Rajesh Khanna was fading. Some of us, young officers in the Indian Navy, went to Capitol to catch a Bachchan movie. The only tickets available were in black. Suddenly, there was a police raid and somehow, everyone managed to flee the scene except me with a bagful of blacker’s tickets. I showed the policemen my identity card and got out of the situation after we gave away the tickets. Such instances were common. Cinema was the biggest and almost sole source of enjoyment in our times," he reminisces.
I have to sail again
It's not all fun you see
It's not a holiday at sea
There's plotting and planning
Plenty of work to be done
Looking for the XO? That's me
Ideal Navy men we have to be
Secure lines, codes and secrets
It's just like the movies
Except that it's real, and my family is away
Oh yes, anchors aweigh
I wish to be at RC Church
my feet on the ground
And a cinema like Liberty or Regal
With my family to go around
I love the walkie talkie and love to give commands
But the talkies, they've got their own charm
ON July 9 and 16
TIME 11 am to 2 pm
ASSEMBLY POINT Ministry of New, Dadabhai Naoroji Road, Azad Maidan, Fort.