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Chitra, Thank You for Satyajit Ray and the Cinema That Was

Chitra Cinema closed down its curtains last Thursday.

Updated
Bollywood
4 min read
Chitra Cinema was known to screen Satyajit Ray’s films.
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But for the 70-year-old Chitra Cinema at Dadar in Central Mumbai, which packed up last Thursday, the city’s filmgoers would never have been exposed to the masterworks of Satyajit Ray.

Its distinctive USP was to screen Ray’s oeuvre at Sunday 9 am, drawing ‘house full’ crowds for the black-and-white Mahanagar, Charulata, Aranyer Din Ratri, Goopy Gayen Bhaga Bayen and more.

No distributor or exhibitor would dare to show the Ray works, in Bengali with subtitles. Not commercially viable, went the credo.

On occasion, the milestones of Kolkata’s auteurs Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha also found a theatrical release at Chitra, which has held a cult status among film aficionados.

Significantly from the onset of the 1970s, a compact preview theatre within the premises, played host to screenings of regional and international films organised by the torch-bearers – among them Hrishikesh Mukherjee, K.A. Abbas, Basu Chatterjee and Basu Bhattacharya -- of the then-flourishing film society movement.

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Chitra played host to screenings of regional and international films organised by the torch-bearers, among them Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee.
Chitra played host to screenings of regional and international films organised by the torch-bearers, among them Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee.
(Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

Chitra, while showing blockbusters and regular commercial films in Hindi and Marathi, had simultaneously served as an art house outlet, along with the long-defunct Tarabai Hall, close to South Mumbai’s Marine Lines railway station.

Just as the film society movement waned, the 550-seater Chitra, succumbed to the onslaught of multiplexes and streaming channels, wrapping up with Student of the Year 2.

Lucklessly, no one has kept a record of the first film to open there. All that is known is that a big white sheet of cloth had filled in for the screen, initially.

One of the few cinemas to still offer car-parking facilities in its front compound, the ticket prices to date were pegged at Rs. 150, Rs 120 and Rs 70. If the producer insisted on jacking up the rates for a potential money-spinner, the cinema’s management had to grin and bear it. It didn’t get a larger size of the collections.

The cinema’s owner Dara Phiroz Mehta, who inherited the property as well as an adjoining residential building from his grandfather Dorabji Mehta, has expressed his regrets at the closure and stated that there are no immediate plans to revive the theatre or to go in for redevelopment. Read: the mushrooming of a mall, a bunch of shops and apartment high-rises.

At present Chitra’s future is under wraps, then. According to some of the residents of the area, the cinema could just remain a phantom structure for years -- like the Naaz on Lamington Road or Diana on Tardeo -- given the uncertainty and fluctuations in the real estate market.

Dadar, known since the pre-Independence era for a phalanx of studios – Ranjit, Shree Sound and Rooptara – is no longer a film hub. The remnants of the extinct studios are in a state of utter neglect.

Unbeknownst to many, the Albela star, Bhagwan Dada, spent his last days in a crumbling chawl close to Chitra Cinema. Armed with a quarter bottle of rum, he would watch new releases there.

Unbeknownst to many, the Albela star, Bhagwan Dada, spent his last days in a crumbling chawl close to Chitra Cinema. Armed with a quarter bottle of rum, he would watch new releases there, and in the course of an interview had smiled ruefully, “My eyes have cataract but I can see that my dance moves are still being imitated. Main kuchh to kaam aaya (So, I’ve been of some use.)”

Vimal Thakker, owner of the the vintage India Photo Studio, next door to Chitra, states, “Who knows how long I will continue to hang on here? Its closure has been like watching a parent pass away. My trade has been reduced essentially to taking passport photos and a few portfolios. With the cinema gone, the footfalls are bound to fall further as they will for the street food stalls, restaurants and textile shops.”

City historian Rafique Baghdadi rewinds, “ If I remember correctly, the cinema served as the main venue for the International Film Festival of India back in 1964 with such memorable films as Joseph Losey’s The Servant. I was hooked and went on to discover Bengali cinema there. And if I may say so, the canteen there served the best samosas catered by Sion’s Guru Kripa hotel.”

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Over next to my deeply personal regard for the cinema, it has been kept aglow by the discovery of Satyajit Ray morning shows.

Plus, it was here that a schoolfriend and I had worn burqas to sneak into the ‘adults only’ morning show of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

That transgression was weaved into my first story-screenplay, Mammo, written for Shyam Benegal. To my eternal gratitude, Benegal shot that autobiographical sequence at the venue itself with the minutest details intact, including the suspicious usher, unsure about the two little ‘ladies’ in black.

Thank you for Satyajit Ray, the great times and the cinema that was, Chitra.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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