The debate to determine if a heritage single-screen theatre should be revamped into a multiplex with a modern day retail experience is touch-and-go. Nostalgic cinephiles in Kolkata are saddened by the conversion of Metro Cinema Hall into an Inox multiplex. However, they prefer a revamp of the beloved movie destination to its shutting down for good.
From Calcutta to Kansas, Scottish-born New York-based architect, hailed as ‘the king of theatres’, Thomas W. Lamb’s first gift to India was one of its oldest theatres in 1934. The Metro Cinema Hall, situated in the posh locality of Esplanade, Calcutta was once a bustling, majestic building that showcased American production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s movies. Modern day Kolkata was once considered one of the most important cities under the British colonial rule thus providing a great audience base for some of Hollywood’s most memorable flicks. In 2012, the initiation of reviving the building, which shut down owing to the changing needs and tastes of the city’s cine-goers, was undertaken by the Heritage Commission of Calcutta. Inox Leisure Ltd, a diversification project of the Inox group, which has theatres spread across 107 locations in India, is in the process of remodelling Metro into a multi-use retailing destination. The renovation which started in 2015 is to be unveiled in October 2017.
The Transition Phase
The sibling hall in Mumbai, Maharashtra, also built by Thomas W. Lamb was revamped by Big Cinemas, a division of Reliance Mediaworks Ltd which has 515 screens across the country, and tried to retain the old charm of the cinema hall, complete with the amber hue across the ceiling lined with the chandeliers and a hint of nostalgia with the wooden panelling. “All the amenities in the building have been altered and preservation of the old world charm is not very prominent. Nonetheless, it is one of the best cinema halls in the vicinity and very popular with college goers. I much rather prefer the multiplex to the stand-alone theatres here. I however miss the way they used to display the show-timings once upon a time,” said Aatif Lone, an avid cinema-goer in Mumbai. The reaction to the news of the renovation of the Metro cinema in Kolkata as a part of the heritage Uniplex versus the practical Multiplex was mixed. “As a classicist and passionate movie-goer, I feel saddened by it. My cousin and I had watched Basic Instinct there. I have watched a lot of films too in my teens and university years. The transition from old to new, be it audio cassettes to mp3 or single screen to multiplex, is perhaps inevitable, but it’s the association with the image of Calcutta of my childhood, her landmarks and associated memories against the tyranny of time. However, on the hindsight, commerce does matter. Better run by Inox than being shut down. The show must go on,” remarked Mahadyuti Adhikary, Deputy Magistrate, Birbhum, West Bengal and a cinephile.
The ubiquitous nature of modern day multiplexes is evidenced by the exponential growth in the revenue per screen per quarter. Esplanade which was the hub of the Raj era is also home to the Globe cinema hall, which was closed in 2005, owing to labour trouble. However, one of the old cinema halls, New Empire is still running, after going in for renovation and upgrading the movie watching experience by installing modern day technology like Dolby Sound System. Pallavi Biswas, casting director and creative producer, reminisced, “I’m a die-hard romantic when it comes to anything vintage and the grand old single screen cinemas, so the renovations are painful to watch. In the early 80s I would bunk school almost every Saturday to catch a movie at Metro. It is the place where I watched the most number of Naseeruddin Shah films.”
As much as it is heart breaking for the older generation that watched Laurel and Hardy at the same cinema hall dance to J. Leubrie Hill’s ‘At the Ball, That’s all’ from Way out West (1937) as one of the first movies to be screened at Metro, the attention that the cinema hall is receiving makes for good news.