Today I went to see a movie at Regal Cinema after more than a year. Multiplexes have redefined the movie experience so much, that one tends to completely bypass the smaller theaters now. After all who is going to stand for tickets in a slow, longwinding que days in advance when you can book tickets with a few clicks of the keyboard? And what about the range of snacks, beverages, plush washrooms and even more plush seats offered by the multiplex? Regal, in comparison, had no carpeting, clean but basic seats, tucked-away bathrooms and a cooling system that seemed to depend more on mammoth wall-mounted fans than an air conditioner.
However, what Regal also has is history. Not just cinematic history, but memories that encapsulate some of the most golden sociological and architectural moments of Bombay. Its one of the oldest cinemas in the city, built during the Art Deco 1930s. Opened in 1933, it was designed by the famed Charles Stevens, with extensive mirror-work interiors by the Czech artist Karl Schara. The main auditorium had a motif of sunrays in pale orange and jade green, and was designed to seem airy and cool, an oasis in the sweltering Bombay climate. Even in the '30s, Regal used reinforced cement concrete, was fully air conditioned, and had an elevator connecting the underground parking, which was a huge innovation.
It was a place where you dressed up and went to see a movie. A place for socializing as much as cinema, of silks, satins, diamonds and limousines - almost the exclusive privilege of the glittering upper class. Even a couple of years back, it was one of the most luxe cinemas in town, with the priciest tickets and the best pop corn. In fact, it was so premium that we would buy stall tickets in our penny pinching days...the crowd was good, and the balcony simply seemed 'overpriced'.
Cut to today. Now it seems like a haunt for college kids, couples looking for anonymity and the less-than-affluent crowd. The pop corn is still phenomenal, but it cant compete with the multiplexes in either comfort or luxury.
So would I go back? Yes, and not only because its so much easier on the wallet (balcony seats for 4, alongwith snacks and drinks came in at 520 bucks!!), but because watching a movie here was a different experience altogether. What it lacked in glam, it made up in ambience - this is Bombay, this is Bollywood. Try it once and relive the magic.
I am headed to Liberty and Eros next - its time to make new discoveries in old vintages.