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Travel to Mumbai (Bombay)


Regal Cinema, Mumbai

1 May 2014

Neha Kale meets the people running independent movie theatres

In Mumbai’s sepia-toned Colaba Causeway, where crumbling architecture shares sidewalk space with billboards advertising the latest broadband plan, it’s difficult to distinguish signs of modernity from the faded grandeur of a colonial past. But the Regal Cinema, an Art Deco picturehouse that attracted British aristocrats in the 1930s and whose clientele includes expats, students and artists that make up Mumbai’s rising creative class, signals the ways in which the city’s history has paved the way for its current evolution. 

“The Regal Cinema was the first air-conditioned theatre in Asia and also one of the first places you could watch English-language films,” says Rafique Bagdhadi, a well-known Mumbai film critic and local historian. “You booked your ticket a week in advance and when you visited it was like you were going see Hamlet at the theatre. It felt like it was an event.” 

However, this sense of occasion was sparked just as much by the Regal’s refreshments as it was by the movie hall’s opulent interior, which includes a mirror-lined lobby and a main auditorium accented with orange and jade sunbursts courtesy of Czech artist Karl Schara. “There were soda fountains, vendors selling samosas, sandwiches and chai and there would always be music playing in the background,” Baghdadi recalls. “You paid your money and you always felt like it was worth going there.” 

These days, the Regal – which aired the first Laurel And Hardy film in 1933 – shows a mix of English and Hindi films, from large first-run features to Bollywood fare, but Baghdadi fears that this isn’t enough for local audiences. “Once upon a time, a single-screen cinema would run a film for one or two weeks but multiplexes changed the whole way of looking at cinema,” he says. “The Regal still stands but it’s not quite what it used to be.” 




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