Picture Abhi Baki Hain
As a salute to the Mumbai's last surviving single screen theatres, we relish the simple and delicious snacks sold at their counters
The posters are peeling, the walls are leaking and the curtains may come undone. The counters are half-empty, the food aplenty, but we're all flocking to over-priced nachos anyway. Welcome to this stupid world.
City historian Deepak Rao is as unhappy as us. "We'd make sure to carry extra pocket money for the chicken rolls at Old Excelsior when we went to watch films as college students," he reminisces, adding, "Watching movies used to be an experience." And we attempted to relive it.
As Eros cinema remains shut behind large doors and Regal, a glittering hoarding in Colaba's iconic skyline, sits on the cusp of an uncertain future, we take a look at the humble and wholesome fare sold at near abandoned food counters of the city's single-screen theatres, before they disappear like the brightness from the Diwali lights you forgot to take down.
In 1992, when Khuda Gawah, a Bachchan-starrer Bollywood drama, premiered in the now-ageing Maratha Mandir at Mumbai Central, actor Poonam Dhillon had brought along a box of pedhas. The staff ate it up when Dhillon wasn't looking and she let it go with a laugh. Umar Rasool Sunasra, 52, food and beverage manager at the theatre, tells us many stories while looking back at his 35 years of service.
"Dilip Kumar was also here. I served him tea," he recalls. Incidentally, the film's co-producer, Manoj Desai, is also the executive director of the movie hall. The canteen is as relevant to their patrons as the box office. And their in-house vegetable sandwich (R20), a humble snack made with bread, tomato, cucumber and green chutney continues to be a favourite. Young moviegoers who are there to watch Rajnikant and Akshay Kumar's new offering, 2.0, flock to the counter for hot and crispy samosa (R30), chips and sandwiches.
Umar Rasool Sunasra. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Popular among Mumbaikars for screening a daily show of the 1995 blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge even today, the cinema hall continues to serve wafers at R10. "If the ticket is R20, the food has to be cheaper, right?" he reasons. And if you ask him what he thinks of multiplex fare, he shakes his head disapprovingly. "Galat baat hai. Nuksaan na humara na customer ka hona chahiye. Tab hi toh woh laut ke ayenge," he says even as he reminisces the golden days of packed shows and surging sales.
At M M Marg, RBI Staff Colony.
En route Pune
Subhash Bhatia, F&B manager at Chitra Cinema on Ambedkar Road, remembers Pune-bound city slickers stopping by to hoard affordable-but-hygienic wafers, sandwiches, and softies, which were a hit during summers in the '50s and '60s, when air-conditioned cars were still a distant dream. Located in a prime location, they still get a decent footfall, but have had to add new snacks like burgers.
The mela-like popcorn machines are a new addition and they have brought on board a different distributor for sandwiches, who serves variants like Russian salad and cheese chutney (R80 each). "The problem is, if it isn't a good film that's playing, customers don't show up, but with a multiplex, they can simply watch another film. Our generation was happy with very little. It's not the same anymore," he shares.
At Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Road, Dadar East.
A forgotten landmark
Ganpati Eesan has been working as the F&B manager at Regal Cinema's counter for 15 years. In a little corner behind the counter, he has set-up a table where he makes the theatre's popular sandwiches. "Back in the day, customers would purchase a ticket only to try the veg exotic sandwich [capsicum, tomato, cucumber and mayo].
We discontinued it three years ago because the ingredients became costlier but we couldn't hike our prices." Now, they serve only cheese and chutney sandwiches (R70). Looking back at some of the weirdest moments from his time behind the counter, Eesan recalls, "Once a foreigner brought urchins inside for a movie and raided our counter. We thought it was sweet, but didn't know how to respond." As the PVRs and Cinepolises of the world took over, Regal relegated to the background, forgotten in all its vintage Art Deco splendour.
At Colaba Causeway, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road.
A galaxy for cinephiles
Yahan sab gareeb log aatein hai, madam," Babu Shaikh, food counter manager at Bandra's Gaiety-Galaxy Complex points out, speaking about why they continue to sell affordable eats, despite a decline in footfall. Their samosa, sourced from Sion's popular street food joint Guru Kripa (who, along with A1, caters to seven single-screens including the ones mentioned here), were once selling like hot cakes. Now, Babu says, "It's hard to sell even 50."
He thinks allowing patrons to bring their own food has lent itself considerably to the fall in sales. Even so, he stands by keeping costs low. "Poor people should have a place they can go to, to enjoy films as well," he argues. At one end of the movie hall's expansive cafeteria, an ice cream counter continues to sell Pastonji's chocolate ice cream (R30) served in old-school wafer cones.
At Swami Vivekanand Marg, Bandra West.
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