In one of the winding bylanes of Grant Road, nearly 80 people gathered for a cinema history trail organised on Monday as part of the Fox Life heritage walks section of the HT Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
The theme of the walk was Mumbai’s entertainment industry and its evolution from street theatre to cinema, plus the rise of operas, with a tour of the opulently revamped Opera House.
“The entertainment industry got its start on the islands of Bombay following the arrival of the British. For their entertainment, a travelling theatre company was founded in 1847, called the Bombay Amateur Theatre Group, which performed all over the city,” said Kruti Garg, a restoration architect who conducted the walk.
The trial began, accordingly, at Alfred Theatre near Kamathipura, focusing on the once-grand and now-dilapidated theatres of yore such as Royal Theatre, Nishant Talkies, Silver Talkies, New Roshan Talkies and Moti Talkies, all in the Grant Road-Sandhurst Road area.
“All of these theatres began as venues for tamashas and plays. By the early 1900s, when cinema came to India, they converted into movie halls. Today, given all the multiplexes, they screen mainly B-grade films,” Garg added.
As the walk ended at Opera House, Garg pointed to the gilding as a reminder that this was a venue built for luxury entertainment, evening wear and the who’s who of the city.
“This walk in particular interested me because it toured the narrowest alleys of Mumbai, which one would never image had been associated with the history of cinema,” said Rama Thoopal, 40, a Delhi-based finance consultant in town on business. “I also loved touring the old theatres because the architecture of single-screens interests me greatly.”
Also present in the crowd was British tourist Karen Petford, 55, who said says she planned her vacation in India to coincide with KGAF.
“I was interested specifically in the heritage walks as part of the festival,” she added. “Mumbai is a fantastic city with a fascinating heritage. I want to know as much as possible about it.”