“Chalo, Metro mein jaate hain...?” asked a Dilliwallah friend midway during our conversation, while catching up recently after ages. “Of course!” I replied, excitedly. “So, should we board it from Ghatkopar or Versova?” he prodded. It’s when I realised that I was on the wrong track. Clearly, I had got it all mixed up. He was referring to the Mumbai Metro that completed a year, and was keen to compare how it fared against its Delhi counterpart.
It was an eye-opener to learn how the iconic Metro cinema was no longer on top of people’s minds, considering its long-time love affair with the movies. Forget the time when out-of-town cousins would insist on including it on their already-packed itineraries. We decided to dig up some research about its contribution to the city, today, which is exactly 77 years since it opened to the public. Small gratification, really.
The cinema complex was built on land that was formerly used as Air Force stables, at the busy Dhobi Talao junction where six roads converged. The Metro Goldwyn Corporation acquired the land in 1936 for 999 years, at a nominal annual ground rent of Rs 1. Talk about a steal for prime land! The glitzy cinema was a 1,500-seater that was a mix of bright Art Deco murals and designs from Hindu murals within and outside the lobby, which were designed by professors from the Sir JJ School of Art, and executed by its students. Designed by MGM and well-known city architectural firm, Ditchburn & Mistri, the cinema spelt class and style. Some of its big draws were its soda fountain, teak-clad columns, white marbled floors and two fifteen-foot high aluminum and cut-glass chandeliers.
When it was ready, the new theatre was advertised in the press as ‘Metro - Where the Lion Roars’, since Metro Goldwyn Corporation has a lion as its emblem. And roar it did.
Thankfully, the multiplex makeover, despite taking away some of its old charm, retained the vibe, and the movie-going experience of yore - a characteristic that none of the current multiplexes can boast of. Each comes across as something that’s emerged from an assembly-line set-up; do a test drive of at least two-three multiplexes, and you’ll reason. How is it possible to distinguish one from another, what with the same ambient lighting, similar signage, predictable, garish interiors reminiscent of a TV soap opera set...you get the drift, right?
Wouldn’t it benefit Mumbai’s tag as the Film Capital of India if our cinemas - its multiplexes and single screens - were to showcase the city, and its many cinematic hues? How delightful would it be to walk past these hallways filled with displays of fabulous collages, posters, and artworks that live, breathe and celebrate old and new cinema? After all, doesn’t this city epitomise it, having influenced so much thought across India and the world? It’s high time that our cinema houses relive their glory days, and also bring back some of the long forgotten flavour and the masala. We would love to see the big picture.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day