Will Mumbai finally get a dedicated centre for arthouse and independent cinema? Hope flickers in the inauguration of the Matterden Centre for Films and Creations at the recently refurbished Deepak cinema in Lower Parel in south-central Mumbai. Matterden has been set up by the Enlighten Society for film, and, following a soft launch on 11 July, will screen independent films from September.

The idea is to show films, an evening show a day, for 100 over the first few weeks—the prices will go up once they start showing indie films. This will allow The Deepak to continue showing the latest Hindi or English films the rest of the time. “We want to build Matterden’s identity as a Prithvi for films," says Enlighten’s founder Pranav Ashar, referring to the theatre hub in the north of Mumbai.

The new center’s title contracts to Matterden CFC—its promoters quite clearly wish to remind potential patrons of the IFC Center in New York City’s Greenwich Village, US. Matterden’s programming will have to keep pace with the IFC to justify the cue—as of now, it is opting for a soft build-up rather than plunging into the unpredictable and often unremunerative world of Indian independent film distribution. “We will play classics for the first couple of months and then start promoting independent films," Ashar says. “Director Vikramaditya Motwane is the first patron of the centre."

If it takes off as planned, Matterden will offer much-needed competition to PVR Director’s Rare, the distribution initiative launched by the cinema chain in 2011. Film-makers can release their films through select PVR multiplexes by agreeing to shoulder projection and publicity costs. At Matterden, directors will not be charged for showing their films, says Ashar. “We are a creation and exhibition platform," he says. “We don’t only want to do screenings, but also want the space to be branded as a film centre. Only then will people come and start spending time there. If it’s a consumption space, it will become like any other cinema." Matterden will have a “table of creation modelled on the Genius Bar (technology support station) at Apple Stores, where people can meet and exchange ideas," Ashar adds.

The idea is to make Deepak a go-to-see-and-be-seen hub—a laudable idea tried out in the past in different spaces and places. Several individuals and organizations have attempted to run and sustain arthouse film centres, but Mumbai has a way of letting a good thing last for a few years before swallowing it up and spitting it out. The Alliance Française briefly ran the Ciné Club in the 1970s, while the All India Radio centre in the south of the city dedicated an auditorium to low-budget films for a while before shutting it down some years ago. The National Film Development Corporation has not followed through on its promise to set up an arthouse theatre in Bandra in northern Mumbai.

The Deepak experiment is a result of overlapping interests meeting at the opportune moment. “We had already been scouting for space, while the cinema’s owners too wanted to do some activity," Ashar says. In its previous avatar, Deepak, which is owned by Punit Shah and family, was known as Deepak Talkies and was a mostly second-run Hindi and Bhojpuri cinema patronized by working-class film-goers. The establishment has since rebranded itself as The Deepak: Lower Parel, indicating that the Shahs want to attract the wealthy Mumbaikars who will soon take up residence in the neighbourhood in such steeply priced upcoming apartment complexes as World One, Indiabulls Sky and The Park.

Should these high-powered denizens choose to rub shoulders with the usually scruffy and sartorially challenged cineastes who lurk at such venues, they will be treated to screenings of such international classics as Bicycle Thieves, Rashomon and The General in July and August, followed by limited engagement releases in September of such independent films as Beyond All Boundaries, the cricket-themed documentary by Sushrut Jain, and Nainsukh, an experimental biopic of the Pahari painter by Amit Dutta.

Matterden Centre for Films and Creations will be inaugurated at The Deepak: Lower Parel on 11 July. For details, email matterden@gmail.com or call 40150621.

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