While the city might be the nucleus of the Indian film industry, several cinema halls that were landmarks in their heyday, decades ago, lie forgotten today. In fact, the brilliant facades of 19 such theatres will be the focus of this walk at Grant Road organised by Alliance Francaise, this Sunday.
Revisit these centres of glamour with film critique and city historian Rafique Baghdadi, where once unending queues of people turned mere films into jubilee hits.
“We will start the walk with breakfast at Merwan, which is a landmark in itself. The entire route is quite a zigzag path as the area is lined with several structures of historical importance.
There is Arab Gully, which writer Manto mentions in his works of his stay in the city, China Town which was once the home for most of the city’s Chinese dentists, and of course, the theatres,” says Baghdadi. Another must-visit place according to Baghdadi is the Wigram rectory or the residence of a priest at Gina Hall.
Baghdadi says, “These theatres were known as Cinematographs then and were used for all sorts of entertainment shows, even magic shows. Most of them were Second Run theatres and catered more to the Indian audience as compared to the rich Indian families and the English who used to frequent the cinema halls in Town.”
Baghdadi says the first Indian full-length feature — Raja Harishchandra was released at Olympia on Grant Road. Of the several theatres that line the area are Daulat, Kamal, National, Silver, Raj, Alfred and Super. The architecture of each of these theatres too is remarkable, “These places were built themed on palaces.
Hence, every structure is unique in itself and grand. They have deteriorated over the years. Imperial cinema was actually someone’s bungalow that was converted into a theatre. They also had good restaurants within them. It was like India’s Times Square; people had so many options to choose from.”
Baghdadi will end his walk at Alfred cinema, a spot where one can spot several other theatres in the vicinity.
“By walking in these lanes, it will be like recapturing the nostalgia of a time familiar with our parents and grandparents,” he tells us.
Baghdadi will also be conducting walks at other areas of historical importance of the city’s past such as Bhuleshwar, Chor Bazaar, Bhendi Bazaar and Lalbaug.