Though the PVRs, Cinemaxes, and Adlabs rule cinema culture today, south Mumbai still houses some of the earliest known theatres of the city.
Established in the early 20th century, almost all of them are now dilapidated and screen only semi-porn, Bhojpuri or old Bollywood films. With ticket prices not crossing the Rs 25 mark, most of the patrons that frequent these erstwhile cinemas are daily wage labourers or beggars.
Edward, Dhobi talao
The theatre is named after King Edward who visited it in 1914. Says manager Sanjay Vasava, “The owners are running it on a no-profit-no-loss basis, thereby making sure their 30 employees don’t lose their livelihoods.”
Edward plays old movies that won’t get a screen in other parts of the city. Adds Vasava, “In 1974, when it screened Jai Santoshi Maa, women from the adjoining areas would come with a thaali and light diyas in front of the screen. They would also distribute jaggery and grams to patrons.”
Royal Talkies, Grant Road
Started in 1911, the theatre originally screened documentaries. By 1914, Royal only staged plays. Says owner Suli Arya, “By 1930, most theatres in the area started showing movies. We too followed suit. The backstage gave way to the screen.” With a seating capacity of 600, it barely finds 50 viewers for a two-month old Bollywood movie.
New Roshan Talkies, Grant Road
Started in 1930, the theatre has screened only reruns till date. Says manager, Javed Qureshi, "Our seating capacity is 668 and tickets are priced at Rs 15 and 20. A Parsi family, who later sold it to the Iqbals, started it. When we started, there were benches for seating and we have tried getting new furniture from time to time."
Nishat Cinema, Grant Road
Owned by Neeta Nihalani, wife of film director, Pahlaj Nihalani, the theatre now screens only Bhojpuri movies, priced at R 15/18. Says Neeta, “We came from Pakistan after partition and started a play house on August 15, 1952, where the current theatre stands.”
Gulshan Theatre, Opera House
The cheapest of all, Gulshan charges R 9 and 10 for tickets, though the movies playing are from the ’80s and ’90s. The theatre was renovated about a decade ago and given a new façade.
Imperial Cinema, Grant Road
Situated in the busy commercial area, Lamington Road, Imperial started shop in 1905 as an orchestra theatre. It now plays only B-grade Bhojpuri movies. Tickets are priced at Rs 30-35 and the night shows generate maximum business.
Alfred theatre, Grant Road
Started around 1880 as Rippon and then rechristened as Alfred in 1932, the theatre currently screens only soft porn movies. The distinct European architecture is still intact. Says manager, Hoozefa Bootwala, “Our audience likes only action movies. They don’t want Race or Players. They won’t understand such cinema.”
Tickets are priced at Rs 18/20.
Maratha Mandir, Mumbai central
The first film to premiere at the iconic theatre was Sunil Dutt and Vyjayanthimala’s Sadhna. In 1960, Mughal-E-Azam was premiered here and ran for six years. Says managing director, Manoj Desai, “At the premiere, Dilip Kumar came on a horse.
There were elephants all over the place.” Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge has been running here for the last 17 years and still gets 100 percent occupancy on weekends and public holidays.
Capitol Cinema, CST
Opened in 1879, the theatre was a regular for the British elite based in the city. It was then known as Gaety. Now, most of the theatre’s patrons are migrant workers who go in for the cheap tickets and old Bollywood films. Globe Theatres, which manages the cinema, also owns the Regal theatre in Colaba.