Theatre of memories

When Amol Ranjan, Anurag Mazumdar, Arpita Chakraborty, Avadhoot Khanolkar and Shweta Radhakrishnan, students of School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, had to make a film as part of their course last year, they first thought of helming a movie on Dada Kondke.

The movie explores the history and development of Bharatmata as a space for articulating the cultural identity of Mumbai’s working class

Despite the sexagenarian sporting striped long underwear and acting in double entendre comedies, he had a massive fan following. To realise their assignment, the group would have to travel to Bhor in Pune as Kondke was a native of that area. They, however, scrapped the idea as the project didn’t permit them to shoot outside Mumbai.

Arpita Chakraborty, Shweta Radhakrishnan, Amol Ranjan, Avadhoot Khanolkar and Anurag Mazumdar, students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who shot the movie

The quintet, who was frequenting Bharatmata Cinema (a single-screen theatre showing Marathi films exclusively) at Parel, as part of their research on the actor-producer, decided to helm a movie on the theatre itself. Twenty-eight year-old Khanolkar says, “In 2010, Bharatmata had screened eight to nine films of Kondke as a tribute. We frequented the theatre as part of our recce and liked the space. As all of us hailed from small towns, we could easily connect with ticket window, the large posters and the ambience inside the theatre, all of which had an old-world charm. That’s when we decided to do the project on Bharatmata. It was also topical as the cinema hall was celebrating its 75th year in 2012.”

What followed was Bharatmata Ki Jai, a 28-minute film shot from December 2011 to February 2012. Through the lives of Kapil Bhopatkar, the owner, and Baban, one of the oldest employees of the theatre, the film explores the history and development of Bharatmata as a space for articulating the cultural identity of Mumbai’s working class and raises important questions about its existence and survival. The characters, widely disparate through their socio-economic class, come together through their passionate love for movies and Bharatmata Cinema. Next week, the movie will be screened at the National Centre for Performing Arts’ Fresh Pix series.

Khanolkar says, “While Bhopatkar takes viewers down memory lane sharing anecdotes about how and when the theatre was set up by his grandfather; Baban, the usher, is a cinema buff who describes the atmosphere inside the hall when movies are screened and the kind of audiences that frequent the venue.” Though he admits that shooting the film was an eye-opener for his group as all of them learnt about Marathi cinema and the working-class culture, the movie surprisingly wasn’t replete with challenges.

Khanolkar, a resident of Tarapur elaborates, “We had assumed that it would be difficult to get access to the cinema hall and the archives and shoot there. But, thanks to Bhopatkar, it wasn’t an issue at all as he was very co-operative. Also, the movie doles out a lot of historical facts about the venue, but we managed to weave them seamlessly into the narrative.”

Though the group was happy with the movie, they just had one regret. “Bharatmata has its own Ganesh murti in its premises during Ganeshotsav. We shot a lot of footage but at that time we didn’t know that we would focus on Bhopatkar and Baban. So eventually we didn’t include it in the movie.”

Bharatmata Ki Jai has been screened at film festivals across the country and also at the Florence and Edinburgh Film Festival. It also won the Best Script Award--non-fiction at the First National Students’ Film Awards at the Film and Television Institute Pune.

Earlier, the show timings of the cinema hall were kept according to the shift timings of the mill-workers in the surrounding areas. The theatre was initially called Laxmi Talkies. In 1942, its name was changed to Bharatmata. The tickets cost Rs 25 for stall and Rs 30 for balcony. It’s the only cinema hall in Mumbai to show Marathi movies.  

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