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After 75 years, Mumbai theatre embraces digital age

Presently, Lalbaug is an area in central Mumbai that is best known for its humongous Ganesha idol. Every year long lines of pious believers and celebrities throng to this small pocket of central Mumbai, that is now mainly residential, to pay obeisance to the elephant god.

But in many ways Lalbaug is a manifestation of the change that a Mumbaikar sees around himself. For a century, the area was the hub of the textile industy. Workers would come and go according to their shifts -- night and day -- and the neighbourhood would never sleep. But now the mills stand silent, some have been replaced by malls; the world’s tallest residential tower (once completed according to the Lodha Group), World One, will take the place of one and others are still to metamorphose into what the future has planned for them.

The area is dominated by Maharashtrians -- who first worked in the Girangaon, the Marathi term for the mill district of south-central Mumbai. But even they have moved on -- to different vocations; to a different life.

And in the middle of all of this, opposite the modern, swanky five-star ITC Grand Central hotel, lies Bharatmata Cinema Hall, one of the oldest cinema halls in the city. It first started screening films in 1937. The main clientele then were the mill workers. One of their few forms of entertainment, it came cheap and that is why most of the movies were Marathi too. And that, in turn, meant houseful shows.

Over the years, Bharatmata has stuck to this tradition -- it continued to show Marathi movies, giving them precedence over Hindi movies. But last Friday, something historic took place at the theatre. It took the long-awaited step into the future by going digital.

“I didn't want an intermediate technology. I was waiting for the digital technology to mature. This year I found that technology has advanced enough,” said Kapil Bhopatkar, the owner of the theatre.

The theatre has been managed by Bhopatkar family since 1941. “When my grandfather took charge of this place in 1941 he took two important decisions. One was to screen only Marathi movies and other was to keep the rates the lowest in the market. (They still sell tickets are just Rs 25, even though tickets in the multiplexes are being sold at Rs 250)”

Bharatamata in 1956 (Picture Courtesy: Kapil Bhopatkar)

The theatre will consign it's old projector, manufactured in America, to some much-needed rest for the moment. This projector used carbon rods to generate the light source for projecting the film -- a detail that wouldn't matter to many but would send cinema buffs into a tizzy.

The decision to go digital has brought a smile on the face of CD Dhuri, the projectionist. Dhuri has been projecting films on the analog machine for the last 40 years.

“Digital is great. The sound the picture quality is top class. I think this new projector will bring in new cine goers to Bharatmata,” said Dhuri.

Even the regular patrons of Bharatmata were surprised by the change. “I come regularly here. But today I was amazed by the quality,” said Sandeep, a patron.

Are you wondering what will happen to old projector? No, iyt won't be dismantled and sold.

“The old projector will be kept as it is. Just for antique value” said Bhopatkar.

That and as a reminder of the old days -- when we lived in simpler times and projectionist couldn't doze off during a movie.


Updated Date: May 22, 2012 16:00 PM

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