I was 9 years old, being dragged against my will to the ferry at the Gateway of India by parents and then made to pose by the giant Trimurti sculpture in some caves. I was hankering after the brightly lit marquee of what looked like magic - close to the ferries - apparently a movie theatre, playing a grown up movie. I remember smashing the giant lollipop aunt got me as consolation prize against the cave walls and getting slapped for being stubborn about movies. I don’t remember if they were playing Jaws or Zanjeer at the theatre then. That day I promised myself that no one would ever stop me from watching movies when I grew up. Didn’t know I would bear witness to the change in the way we watch movies.
That magical place, that movie theatre is still around - Regal cinema - located at the beginning of Colaba Causeway. It’s an Art Deco building, that has been a landmark for years and years. Posters of movies still decorate the theatre, standees entice you to future shows. An anachronistic ATM machine stands in the foyer, to ensure that you never run out of cash for popcorn and sandwiches and tea when you are being entertained. The team of ushers have been showing you your seat for the last twenty years, always smiling. They know what magic the theatre holds.
Imagine sharing that joy with sixteen hundred people whooping with delight when Bruce Lee beats up the baddie with a bear claw (Enter The Dragon, it ran for 31 weeks), singing ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ with friends (The Sound Of Music played at the theatre for 38 weeks)... Imagine stepping out during the intermission and ordering tea in your best Scottish accent and the man behind the counter responding with ‘one sugar, stirred not shaken’ because they know you have watched the same James Bond film fourteen times.
If you have not seen a film in a single screen theatre, then you must do so quickly. These single screen beauties seem to be hurtling into history rapidly. I have always wondered where Bandra Talkies went, because there’s a bus stop by that name but there’s only a used car garage there now. And if you have eaten vada pav at CST’s Araam Vada Pav Center then you must have wondered what happened to the Capitol Cinema and then you see the boarded up doors. And I’ve watched so many movies at Chandan cinema when I lived in Juhu that the ushers let my child in so I would buy packets of popcorn for him (before he left with the maid). They would even let him run up and down the semi-circular stairs... I think the people who work at these single screen theatres are made of something else altogether.
I’m not blaming the multiplexes at all. I love the movies. The lady security officers at the gate of Fun cinema (now Carnival) are the sweetest. And the one at Regal has the strength to check thousands of bags during the MAMI film fest with a smile on her face. When I could not find the right change for my hundredth cup of tea at Regal, the man calmly said I could pay him the next day because he knew I was going to infest the theatre every day at MAMI. The same chap also reminded me to drink some water when I got myself more tea the next day. A quiet human interaction, but something we need to cherish. This is why watching movies at the single screens is an awesome experience.
Jaipur’s Raj Mandir theatre has decorated itself into some sort of a palace and it brings in the crowds despite the multiplexes in the Pink City. Liberty Cinema was shut down for so long, you thought the history of Bollywood premiers would be just that. But it has come back in its new avatar, and I am glad that it still retains those beautiful stairs that are made for selfies and for posing in a boa and long stemmed cigaret holder and a sequin encrusted evening dress or a sparkling glittering saree for paparazzi. In Bandra, the Globus theatre has evolved into La Reve, decorated with roses (it’s a dream like boudoir!) and great coffee. I never cease to be amazed by the oldest theatres in Bandra, the Gaiety Galaxy theatres - now called the G7 Multiplex (Gaiety, Galaxy, Gem, Gemini, Gossip, Glamour and the 7th is a preview theatre tucked away in the birds nest area) and their ability to adapt to the times. You can watch movies anywhere, and Netflix and Amazon Prime make it tough to leave your home, but if it an Anil Kapoor movie, you must watch the film at G7 and take a picture with the usher who is an Anil Kapoor lookalike.
But today, the news that Regal cinema, my favourite venue for MAMI - may be shutting down or turning into a multiplex or at worst, a mall - has shaken me to the core. Could we crowdfund the theatre and make it live? Does the city have a heart which says no to overpriced restaurants with strange foods and keep the samosa popcorn and coffee trio alive? Regal has already got lower ticket prices when compared to the multiplexes, should it not find a savior?
There is no other theatre in the city where you can watch a film like Mandy, with jaws dropped on the floor, seeing bloodied Nicolas Cage decimate baddies with a chainsaw? No other screen can show ROMA the way we watched it, in hushed silence, from the front rows of wooden chairs… No other screen in the city has crazy movie fans who patiently wait their turn in the quaint restrooms... Watching movies has been a matchless experience at Regal. Made wonderful by its ushers and servers who love movies as much as you and I. If you watch as many movies as I do, then you will understand why my heart is bleeding out for Regal. One request I have with this piece: Please watch at least one movie at a single screen every month. Or they will disappear because they’re making losses.
As a snotty kid I was hypnotised by its marquee and the bright lights and the beautifully dressed people. I knew I would grow up and watch movies one day. And I have always come out of that awesomeness called Regal with stars in my eyes. Will those stars simply fade away? I hope not.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.