For decades, the residents of Dinath Buildings A and B, the ones just south of the Gopi Tank market in Mahim, used the Citylight Cinema as their landmark. Both buildings claimed to be opposite Citylight, although B had more geographical claim than A. Recently, the directions, as given to a foundering courier, have changed. Now we say, “Opposite the place where Citylight Cinema stood.”
A shopping mall is coming up in the place of Citylight. It looks like it might well dwarf the other buildings on Lady Jamshedji Road, the road between Sena Bhavan on the south end and St Michael Church on the north end. The theatre came down rapidly, behind a discreet screen of yellow and green patra, which also screened the slab that fell one night and killed several mall makers.
The public death of a theatre may not amount to a hill of beans compared to the death of those workers but for those of us who grew up with single-screen theatres, they were intimate spaces inflected with memory and desire. In these cavernous darknesses, we fell in love with ourselves, for that is what stardom in cinema really means: You see in those larger-than-life people your own persona and you discover what you’re trying to will yourself to be. And we exercised the right to love: We held hands in the dark but, even then, we watched the film and the hand-holding made it more intense.
It was in Baadal and Bijlee and Barkha, three theatres sitting in a row on a small lane off Lady Jamshedji Road, that many of these moments happened. Some of them had to do with personal histories, some with the larger shared romance of cinema. I remember standing in line for hours to buy tickets for Mr Natwarlal (1979) for the first-day-first-show. We said it as one word: “I’m going to see Mr Natwarlal furzdaydfurshow.” It meant something then, furzdayfurshow.
And so, when Baadal and Bijlee and Barkha came down, it was as if a part of one’s own personal history had crumbled. Baadal vanished quickly. So did Barkha but, for some reason, Bijlee—where Star City now stands—lingered. Perhaps the owners wanted to see if something could be salvaged and used in the new theatre. The demolition stopped with the façade and suddenly we were looking in at a huge vacant rectangle of off-white in the middle of a half-darkened cavern.
The first to go was the Rivoli, which stood in its own compound on Takandas H Kataria Marg, the one that leads down from Matunga Road station to Lady Jamshedji. Towards the end, it was playing Tamil films, so its loss was not noticed. Then Shree Cinema went (Shree only experienced full houses when it showed The Ten Commandments, 1956). Faithfully, the Roman Catholics of the parish churches of Our Lady of Victories, St Michael and Our Lady of Salvation came to wonder at the parting of the seas. But then it once showed some kind of sexy Western in which a young woman was shown sitting up in bed, saying in Devanagari, “Hello lover, get under cover.” The Catholic aunties decided it was a sleazy theatre, like the Alexandra, and so they boycotted it. It went under and became a housing colony.
The video cassette recorder and the libraries that sprang up all over Mahim killed all five cinemas. Victoria Circulating Library at one end, and Prabhat Book House at the other, became video circulating libraries, though both hedged their bets by keeping their books. Today, only Star City and Paradise are left in the whole of Mahim. It won’t be long now before Paradise goes. It’s just too tempting as real estate. It will be missed. They all are.
Jerry Pinto is the author of Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org