As an adolescent, when Pradeep Dharnidharka (53) wanted to watch a Bollywood blockbuster in the first week of its release, he preferred the drive-in theatre at Bandra (E) to the other regular cinema halls.
“In those days of single-screen theatres, the drive-in was the only option if you wanted to avoid the ordeal of advance booking and long queues,” says the businessman and Juhu resident who made numerous trips to the drive-in in the 1970s when it was new.
Mumbai’s first and only open-air theatre, housed near what is now the Bandra-Kurla Complex, has been defunct for the last few years. And for an entire generation who went there in the ’70s and ’80s and formed memories for a lifetime, its imminent demolition is hard to swallow.
“It was straight out of a Hollywood movie, with the hero driving his Mustang, girlfriend by his side,” jokes Hetal Shah, who had her first date at the Bandra drive-in.
“You had to experience it. Those days, few people had cars, so being able to go to the drive-in was a status symbol,” says Tapoti Kar (51), a government employee who remembers watching the Amitabh Bachchan-Shashi Kapoor-starrer Shaan at the Bandra drive-in.
While Kar, a Santacruz resident, recalls listening to the dialogue with headphones, Dharnidharka insists the large ground had a speaker post at the head of every parking spot.
“Sometimes, people would sit on the roofs of their cars, or on folding chairs outside,” says Sophie Jannaty (52), a homemaker who visited the theatre in a friend’s car in 1979. For couples seeking a private spot in the darkness, and for others looking for a less clandestine evening, the drive-in was all they needed.
But it wasn’t an easy luxury to be had — the ground was built on mangroves, so the buzz of the dialogue was layered with the buzzing of the mosquitoes. “Cars didn’t have air-conditioning in those days, so there was no escaping the swarms of mosquitoes,” Kar recalls.
The novelty of the drive-in began to wear off by the late ’80s, and not just because of the arrival of VCRs.
“We’ve never had the American culture of driving cars everywhere,” says Sanjit Narwekar, a Mumbai-based film historian, adding that since car owners were in a minority, the drive-in had to add stands to seat those who didn’t have cars. “In that sense, sitting in the comfort of a movie hall was better than sitting in the open air,” he points out.