With the rise in the Development Pattern and Changing Lifestyle of Mumbai, Single-Screen theatre got adversely affected. The number of Single-screen theatres declined from 94 theatres to mere 17 theatres in Mumbai. Once, it was Public Interactive and Entertaining hub where people would line up in the queue for hours to get Movie tickets, now the same theaters are on verge of extinction or running non-appropriate B-grade movies.

Winner | RTF Essay Writing Competition May 2021

Category: Essay: Complex Pasts – Diverse Futures
Participant: Ar. Mohammed Esa Shaikh
Profession: Architect
City: Mumbai

It all started, with the initial years of the 20th century when most of the Play-houses of Mumbai were converted into Drama theatres. These Drama theatres provided space for Drama of various languages including Urdu, Gujarati and Marathi.etc. World-famous Munnibai and Gauhar Bano was associated with Drama theatres who performed at the places such as Daulat cinema (then Baliwala Theatre), Gulshan Talkie (then Bombay Theatre), Taj Talkie (then Victoria

Theatre,) New Roshan cinema (then Elphinstone theatre) and Alfred talkie (then Ripon theatre). Some of the theater still do have Changing rooms below stages and Floor-door from where a human can appear or disappear in a fraction of seconds from the stage, to the shock of the audience.

With the advent of the First motion picture film by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1912, most of these Drama theatres began to convert into Cinema halls. Many Cinema halls continued to have Stages so that Various artists can perform in start and during interval of film. Theatres like Edw ard at Kalbadevi and New Royal talkie, still have orchestra Pit from where musicians used to give Music, they used to work in multiple shifts according to screening time of Movie.

Scientific Revolution didn’t halt there. Sounds and Music were introduced in 1931 by Adershir Movie in the movie called as Alam Ara. Soon, these Cinema theatres began to turn into Talkies. Once the playhouse used by British and Elite Indian to play cards is now a democratic Talkie theatre where people from all Class and Caste came together in one hub.

In Post-independence India, Cinema began to overpower the Social condition. Watching the movie became the whole day event and impacted daily life of individual in various ways. Techno-Color movie gave rise to the era of Handmade posters where artists like MF Husain and Shaikh Rehman became Mortal with their work. Also, theatres were known for their Food served in their  Canteen  during Interval. Theatres  in  Dadar  (Marathi  Speaking  Enclave  of  Mumbai) like

Jaihind Talkies and Bharat Mata Cinema began to serve Vada Pav whereas theatre-like Aurora were famous for their South Indian movie and Food.

Single-Screen theatres was not only a place for watching Movies but also become the hub of Setting Fashion for local tailors. Madhuri Dixit’s Green Top and White Lahenga from Hum Aapke hai Kaun became common for Eid dress in 1994 while Shahrukhs Jacket from DDLJ (Longest running Movie in history of Cinema in Maratha Mandir) was maximum in sale in Diwali of 1996.

Interestingly, even before when British demarcated area of Playhouse as Entertainment zone, it was actually a Burial ground of Muslims, American, and Jews. Spaces get converted into Multiple options. Where on top of ground you find Movie theatres, but below the ground, lays Dargah of various Peers and Spiritually blessed figures. While on top you listen to Music of Old or Bhojpuri movie, below you transcend into the tranquil and spiritual environment of Dargah and Chillahs. People still pay respect  to Peer once a year  in the form of Urs-Mubarak. Some Dargahs below Alfred Talkies, Gulshan Talkie,Nishad Talkie and Taj Talkies (all are located in Grant Road)are counting their last day because of Developmental pressure.

Apart from these anecdotes, Single-Screen theatres like Imperial Cinema at Grant Road and Liberty at Marine lines became spot for meeting of LGBTQ community in secrecy. While the first theatre of Mumbai, Alexandra Cinema is converted into Mosque to serve the frenzy of the disputed builder. Theatres like Regal, Eros, Liberty,etc which are counted as Art -Deco marvel, are on verge of shutting its door.

Once rich in Cultural, Social, Tangible and Intangible aspects, many Single-screen theatres in South Mumbai and Suburbs of Mumbai, are on verge of Closing down due to change in Lifestyle and constant Developmental pressure. Introduction of Web Series and Smart TV had forced to shut down shutters of Many Single-screen Theaters. DCR 1995 of Mumbai still stalls the demolition of Single-screen theatre, but has been corrupted by many builders in form of incentives and maintenance of the Building. Hence, its essential to document the various Tangibles and Intangibles associated with Single-screen theatre before change of tide of time.

Complex Pasts; Diverse Futures:

With dwindling number of theatres, from 127 in the year 1991 to only 27 in the year 2015 (Source:UDRI), the era of Single screen theatre is on decline. With advent of Potable screen of Phones and subscription of Online Platform, the tangible aspects of theatre is already in decline. These theatre was once Plethora of Entertainment, can be used for various kind of upgraded entertainment in future.

With technological advancement, this built theatres can upgrade themselves to become a theatre for multi screening of new series or Movies (Like in USA and UK, Game of Thrones was aired on larger screen so that people can come together and enjoy them while is Barcelona, Old theatres are used as drinking Pub where one can cheer for football matches of their favourite club).

These theatre can grow together to form a web which can save heritage films as Mumbai lacks the archive for Movies, also these theatres can be spot where like-minded come together to form the memorandum and work towards saving common collective memories.


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