MARATHA MANDIR THEATRE :
- Impressions during childhood
As we all know, in the olden days most of the movie-halls (interchangeably called as “Theatres” or “Cinemas) were one-screen halls unlike the multiplexes today.
Cinemas often serve as landmarks and also define the neighbourhood. I have chosen to write on Maratha Mandir because my association with it as an audience dates back to the time when the said theatre did not even exist. The tract of land opposite the road abutting the Bombay Central Railway Station was full of weeds, grass and shrubs reaching to height of 8-9 feet. There was no S.T. Bus Depot, no theatre, nothing there that time. At the place where the theatre now exists, there used to be just an ancient wall and right at the top was a board. As a child, I used to pass through this “jungle” every night right up to the wall. In the dim light coming from nowhere I could read what that display-board said. It said that this was the site for Maratha Mandir Theatre – to be managed by Golcha Management and some such thing. As an avid cinema-goer since my childhood days, I used to wonder what kind of a theatre would come up here.
Maratha Mandir Cinema did come up. The year was 1958. It was one of the finest theatres in Bombay. The hall was very spacious, the seats very comfortable, and it had an A.C. system – a great luxury those days. The polished and glossy teak panels, huge mirrors and chandeliers added to its splendour. It also had a plush carpeting in the hall. The feet used to literally sink into the carpet. Very pleasant it was in the theatre. The best part was its ambience. There was a landscape garden right in front and around the theatre – which gave it a royal look. The first movie, as far as I remember, to be screened at Maratha Mandir was SADHNA, starring Sunil Dutt and Vyjantimala which dealt with the subject of emancipation of a nautch girl, The lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi were very ascerbic somewhat on the lines of his earlier movie PYAASA. Of course, as a child, I did not understand at all the seriousness of the subject of Sadhna then. Some hollywood movies were thereafter screened for a limited time. HERCULES UNCHAINED was one of them I saw in 1959.
The most memorable movie screened at the Maratha Mandir was MUGHAL-E-AZAM on 5th August, 1960. I remember that this was the most talked about movie of the decade. The many tales and gossips that went along with its making had people literally raring to go. The inordinate delay of Mughal-e-Azam had left the cinema-lovers very anxious for its release. Unfortunately, I've seen scores of people - the older people and fan of Dilip Kumar - eagerly waiting for the release but passing away before they could see this magnum opus of a movie. Alas for them!
I was to learn later that the premiere show was the most memorable at least for two reasons among the many, many: Dilip Kumar, who had played the romantic lead with Madhubala, did not attend it; and secondly, the film reels of the movie were brought to the theatre on an elephant in the Maharaja style. “Royal Invitations” were issued for the premiere show. The swords, lancets, spears and armours that were used in this film were on display inside the building to the immense curiorisity and delight of the movie buffs. A forty-foot cutout of “Akbar” on the outside heralded the might of the emperor. I remember seeing a huge plaster of paris work in the garden to the right of the theatre, depicting Prithviraj Kapoor (Akbar) weeping on the shoulders of Dilip Kumar (Shahzada Salim). I still remember the accompanying movie’s dialogue: “Shekhoo, Shahenshah Roya Nahin Karte.” (See the picture above).
For full seven weeks before the release there was a serpentine queue outside the theatre for the tickets. Black Marketeers became rich by selling tickets at Rs100/- each. Remember, those days even an engineer’s monthly wages were hardly that much. Sadly, during the rush for tickets, even a murder took place – the fact which is hardly stated in any write up on the theatre. For full three years Maratha Mandir exhibited the royal treat.
Additionally, I also remember some other movies that were released at the Maratha Mandir Theatre over the years: Kaaghaz Ke Phool (cinemascope) (1959); Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963), Dil Ek Mandir and Leader (1964); Guide (1965);Pakeeza (1972), Dharam Veer (1977), Baarood, which introduced Shoma Anand (1976), Razia Sultana (1983) (not the 1961 one which starred Jairaj and Nirupa Roy). The many other movies that were released earlier included Shagird and Saaz Aur Aawaaz. Saira Banu's Shagird ran for over a year. Pakeeza was also released there and it picked up brisk business after Meena Kumari passed way when this movie was still being shown there.
Unfortunately, the Theatre being in the low lying area, it was flooded in 1974. The plush carpets were soiled by the rain waters and therefore removed. The garden landscape gave way to broadening of roads.
Recently, many theatres have been forced to shut shop owing to the high entertainment tax and the onslought of the multiplexes. However, Maratha Mandir is still going strong, and currently is in the news for screening DIL WAALE DULHANIYA LE JAYENGE continually since October 1995.
The status of Maratha Mandir among the cinema halls is certainly legendary.