Mumbai recalls 'fine gentleman' Nazir Hoosein behind Liberty Cinema

Updated: May 15, 2019, 08:11 IST | Shaheen Parkar and Dalreen Ramos |

Nazir Hoosein had made Liberty synonymous with film premieres, while maintaining its old world charm and yet welcoming change

(Clockwise from left) Sridhar Rangayan with Shubha Mudgal and lyricist Saagar Gupta; Simin Patel, founder of Bombaywalla Historical Works, reminsing about Nazir Hoosein who ran the show at Marine Lines' iconic Liberty Cinema
(Clockwise from left) Sridhar Rangayan with Shubha Mudgal and lyricist Saagar Gupta; Simin Patel, founder of Bombaywalla Historical Works, reminsing about Nazir Hoosein who ran the show at Marine Lines' iconic Liberty Cinema

A young boy, very stylish, wearing sunglasses, a bow tie and shorts, picked up a pickaxe with great difficulty before hitting it on the ground, Simin Patel, founder of Bombaywalla Historical Works, describes Nazir Hoosein's look at the foundation laying ceremony of Liberty Cinema in 1947. Hoosein, who passed away on Sunday, was synonymous with the iconic cinema house in Marine Lines. Car racing was, however, his first love, says Atul Kumar, trustee at Art Deco Mumbai, as many others share their tales of Hoosein.

Liberty Cinema, which Hoosein had inherited, was his second love, after car racing, Kumar explains. Constructed by his father Habib Hoosein, on the land belonging to Lotus Trust, on a 999-year lease, the cinema house was named in spirit of Independence. Hoosein "maintained the place immaculately — the curtain mechanisms still work, and the carpet and most of the seating is still original," says Kumar, adding, "He had tremendous attention to detail. I hope the cinema stays for generations."

Ridley Abbott was the architect behind the cinema house and the first film screened here was Mehboob Khan's Andaz on March 21, 1949. Vittoria Di Sica's Bicycle Thieves also had its India premiere here. "For me, Liberty is the last structure that marks the end of the age of Art Deco," Patel says.

Marine Lines

Witness to change

The cinema has also been hosting the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival since its fifth edition in 2014. Sridhar Rangayan, the festival director, says, "When the Supreme Court first recriminalised section 377 in 2013, we were perplexed about how to manage the festival. Our numbers were also growing and we needed a bigger venue. When we approached Hoosein, he immediately said yes. He also told us he would work at the lowest possible cost for us," recalls festival director Sridhar Rangayan.

Hoosein was given a standing ovation in both 2014 and 2015 at the theatre for his speech about the transgender community getting its rights. "One of the last things he said on his hospital bed was how KASHISH has to take place at Liberty," Rangayan says, adding that he is positive about Hoosein's wife Mrunal Gole carrying on the legacy. "It has been a life-changing experience for every filmmaker to see their film screened at Liberty," he adds.

'Lived life on his terms'

More than anything, trade analyst Amod Mehra describes Hoosein as a "fine gentleman" who was passionate about his work. "Nazir saab was also a person who would never bow down to anyone. He lived life on his own terms. One of the earlier films that had a big premiere at Liberty was Mother India [1957]. Liberty's fortunes turned around by Sooraj Barjatya's Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, which ran houseful for 44 weeks. I vividly recall the red jeep that Salman Khan used in the movie; it was parked outside the theatre on display," Mehra recalls.

Liberty was the hub of all film premieres back then, veteran actor Prem Chopra says. "It was a big thing back then. We would look forward to them, especially at Liberty. Actors would dress up and fans would queue outside Liberty since early evening. Every actor knew him personally. His name was synonymous with film premieres," Chopra says. "I remember attending the premiere of Duplicate in 1998," reminisces filmmaker-choreographer Farah Khan. "Karan Johar also hosted the premiere of Kuch Kuch Hota Hain [1998] at Liberty. I shot the iconic Woh Ladki Hain Kahan track from Dil Chahta Hain [2001] there. Liberty had a beautiful old world charm. Once you entered the foyer, you were transported into another world. He took care that it was spick and span," she describes.

New era

Carnival Cinemas took over Liberty over a year ago. However, Hoosein continued to own the building, where he also lived. "It is also lent for film shootings. Rajkumar Hirani shot for Sanju [2018] at the theatre," says Carnival Cinemas spokesperson, adding, "The theatre still has the old 35mm roll projector. We have planned a series of events for the movie Maine Pyar Kiya, which completes three decades this year. There are also plans to screen old classics."

The year Liberty Cinema was born

Inputs by Sonil Dedhia

Also View Photos: These vintage photos of Mumbai theatres will take you back in time

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