Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Edward Theatre Story

This is a raw draft of my story on the Edward Theatre in Kalbadevi, Mumbai that appeared in Downtown Plus on August 12, 2005. This has been one of my best discoveries in Mumbai, so much so that I had a team of filmmakers come down from Germany to film the theatre for National Geographic Channel. The theatre still stands today, and it has got a fresh coat of paint too. This is an unedited version so it may have errors, but the facts are worth pouring over. If I find my published story, I will definitely put it up
Nestled in one of the oldest business districts of South Mumbai, Edward theatre at Kalbadevi stands test to time in this age of multiplex cinemas. The theatre may well be the oldest in Mumbai but there is no proof of its age.
Theatre manager, Ramesh V Kadam elaborates, "I wanted to find out when this theatre was built so I went to the collector house. lack The oldest record they have of this area is of 1844 when this place was full of jhuggi-jhopdis and the plot of land where this theatre now stands belonged to one Bahadur Jamshedji The next survey report dates back to 1918 when this theatre was already there. There are no records for these 78 years, so we don't really know when the theatre was actually built."
The theatre that now plays only old, dated films started off as a drama theatre. While Metro, Regal and Eros had largely British audiences, Edward catered to the Indian tastes with their Gujarati and Parsee Theatre plays.
It also served as a platform for leaders of the Indian Freedom movement such as Gandhi who addressed a congregation of grain merchants in 1921 (non-cooperation movement). Since 1932, the theatre has been screening Hindi films, even though it still follows the three-tier seating structure that is unique to an opera house.
Owners, the late Bejan Bharucha whose wife Gertrude took over in 1971 (who is currently in a state of coma) wanted to keep the theatre in its original state disallowing any structural changes and renovations. The ground floor or the Orchestra seats 250 people and is closest too the screen/stage area. It may be equivalent to the lower stalls of other theatres, but here you pay the maximum ticket rate of Rs 17, to sit closest to the screen. Then there is the arc-shaped First Class on the first floor seating 136 people which would cost you Rs 15 and on the second floor you have the Dress Circle seating 115 people that would cost you Rs 13. Women and children are prohibited from sitting in the first-class and dress circle simply because of the steep steps that could leave many groping in the dark. Next to the stage area are the three-tier boxes along the blue walls that remind you of the privileged few in the days when people would come there to watch plays.
As for the films, there could be the 11-year old film Jai Kishan one day and the not-so-old Gangajal on the next. The theatre screens two films a week and sees around 200-300 people a day, most from the adjoining areas of Lohar Chawl and Crawford market. The longest-running new release at the theatre has been Jai Santoshi Maa (1975) which ran for 43 weeks. Commercially, the film became so successful, that the manager's cabin and backstage area are still adorned with posters of the film and idols of the Goddess herself. On July 26, when rain played havoc in Mumbai, Edward theatre ran to packed houses while screening Gullu Ki Saajish netting a collection of Rs 4404.
Film trade analyst, Amod Mehra says, "Compared to other small theatres, Edward has its own policy. The fact that the owner (Gertrude Bharucha) doesn't want to demolish the property or make some serious changes to the structure, makes its upkeep and maintainence difficult.
The value of property has decreased. Similar circumstances have called for the closure of other small theatres like Hindmata and Kohinoor in the past. When the seating capacity is about 510, you can't expect a distributor to release a new film at Edward. At the end of the day, you should be able to recover your cost of the print i.e. Rs 50000. After the run is over, the prints lie in a godown so distributors give it to such small theatres for a re-run to bag in as much as they can. After all there is an audience for every film.

Monday, July 21, 2008


The word describes a process in which objects are destroyed by collapsing in on themselves. The opposite of explosion, implosion concentrates matter and energy.

It is the principle based on which a nuclear bomb is made. In an implosion-type nuclear weapon design, a sphere of plutonium, uranium, or other fissile material is imploded by a spherical arrangement of explosive charges (neutrons, protons, etc) . This decreases the material's volume and thus increases its density by a factor 2 to 4, causing it to "go critical" and create a nuclear explosion. A similar process takes place in celestial phenomena such as the formation of blackholes where stars collapse upon themselves and become so dense that their gravity simply absorbs everything around them.

As a student of science, I had learnt about the chemical reactions in a nuclear bomb. Balancing those equations was an easy task. I just had to see the difference in the atomic number and the atomic mass between the products and the reactants and I could measure the number of neutrons, protons, electrons and helium atoms that would be thrown out. I would marvel at the fact that man could replicate something that is more common in stars. Though I had studied about the effects of such radiation on life, I don't think I thought about it too seriously. Maybe I was naive but I didn't really know how the bomb worked.

It was only after a recent reading of David Bodanis's book E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, did I actually understand why the bomb that America dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 was so powerful, so much so that it's impact would have been visible from the moon. It's in the book where I read about what happened within the 'Little Boy' once it was dropped by a B29 aircraft till it fell on the roof of a surgical clinic in Hiroshima.

Imploding plutonium atoms, gave rise to several chain reactions that lead to more implosions. As a result, the plutonium-uranium mass kept collapsing into itself, radiating extra-short wavelengths and emitting charged particles. Meanwhile, the high-density core, started sucking in matter from the outside (air) creating a zero-density layer (nearly vaccuum-like). Any resistance the particles would have encountered in the natural atmosphere were nullified and they spread far and wide, creating further implosions. The fires covered an area of nearly 11.4 sq km, burning all life forms. Those who came in the zero-density radius had air sucked out of their lungs (a death most would have never conceived). Those who survived the impact of the bomb had to live with the impact of the radiation - gamma and X-rays attacked the nucleotides in their DNA, leaving them exposed to the risk of cancer, not for a few years, but for a few generations.

Had it been an explosion-type bomb, it would have cause immense destruction, no doubt, but the effect would have been short-lived. Or better still, if that energy from the 'imploding bomb' have been used to light up an airbase.

So why am I talking about this? Because we have an N-deal issue that has required the Indian government to pass a trust vote in the Parliament.

From what I understand, nuclear energy is one of the best solutions to power crisis. France manages to light up the Eiffel Tower everyday, even as we face loadshedding in suburban Mumbai. Why? Effecive conversion of nuclear energy into electricity. Let's face it. Uranium ores in India are scarce. Worse, with a yeild of around 0.04 per cent, they don't even live upto international standards. (Canada has the best ores that contain 40 per cent uranium). Hence, if we have to rely on them, we will have to spend a lot of money on plant and technology to yeild even meagre quantities of uranium. Forget generating energy with that.

Bottom-line: We need to look at 'nuclear' options for power generation. As for the instability, it works for a nuclear device, not for a government that runs a country of one billion people.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jaane Tu...ya maane na

I finally managed to catch this month's most-hyped flick, Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na. But before I get down to a review, I must still get over the shock of actually being able to watch the movie on July 14 when I had a ticket dated July 7.
No, I am not the defaulter. Like any other movie-crazed fan, I hopped around to Eros before my work-shift on Saturday to get a couple of tickets for this Monday. I didn't really think there would have been a rush but mom insisted.
So I walked upto the counter and asked for two balcony tickets for Rs 100 each. And he gave them to me. I checked the time, the date (there was a '7' there that I thought stood for July) and most importantly (or so I thought), the seat numbers). I rushed to my office.

I was happy with my 'acquisition'. It was only when I reached home late at night and fished them out to show them to my mom, when I realised that I had got them all wrong. Date: 7 Jul 2008. Pity me, guys. I was crushed.

It's in times of crisis, we come up with great ideas. Mine was practical. Simply change the 7 into a 14. When I reached the theatre, I realised that I needn't have bothered. The guard never even looked at it and allowed us entry. Phew! That was easy.

As for the movie review: Those who were in Xavier's will love it because of the images of the campus on-screen and those who weren't, will know what Xavier's is like. It may be the same old romantic story, but its fresh and fun.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pickled Delights

This piece of mine appeared in the Mumbai Mirror's comfort food section.

Pickle queen, my aunt remarked as she saw me scraping the bottom of the glass jar for the last of the green chilli pickle my maternal grandmother had made. I smiled. I love pickles and have a palate that allows me to experiment with stuff such as radish pickle, olive pickle and even chicken-and-egg pickle.

I wasn't born with a stomach for achaari delights. As a child, I would rather tuck into a honey or butter-sugar mix with my bread and chapattis. “My son likes the sour and spicy stuff; and my daughter has a sweet-tooth,” my mother would tell neighbours. But pickles were very much a part of my life and the lives of my near-and-dear ones, especially that of my maternal grandmother in Patna.

She would spend a fortnight every winter making pickles out of every conceivable vegetable — beet-root, carrot, cucumber, onion, Indian olive, garlic and ginger. She would neatly line them up in glass jars in cupboards with iron-net doors to let in sunlight. Making pickles was her hobby and I liked assisting her. She never told me her recipes though. She said that we would have to return to her for more.

And so we did.It was during one of those annual visits to Patna that I developed a liking for my grandma's special red chilli pickle. I even sneaked into the kitchen one night to watch her mix the masalas and the chillies with mustard oil. The aroma was overpowering, but strangely comforting. While the super-spicy pickle was a favourite accompaniment to the aloo ka paratha, it be came a sandwich filler, quite accidentally. The Mumbai-Patna train journey takes almost 36 hours. In those days, you could call yourself lucky if your train was less than 10 hours late. My grandmother would always pack food for us for the lengthy return journey.

On one such occasion, she packed parathas, pickle and a loaf of bread (“For the kids. In case they get hungry”). The parathas we had for dinner, but the bread was too dry (thanks to the AC) for next morning’s breakfast. So mom buttered two slices of bread and dabbed some of the red chilli pickle and we had our first pickle sandwich.

Over the course of time, the sandwich made its presence in my school lunch-box (my friends loved it). Mom innovated too – mixing grated cucumber with the pickle sometimes, or grandma’s pickle with Bedekar's mango pickle and even honey, butter and pickle (simply awesome!)

Thank God for innovation, and thank God for grandmas!

Bombay Lights

Good-looking pandu
That's an anomaly. Rarely do you find a goood-looking cop or hawaldar on the streets of Mumbai. Pot-bellied, unfit...time and again we've had newspaper reports that write off the various fitness regimes designed for our cops. So I was in for a really pleasant surprise when I actually bumped into a smart-looking pandu aka hawaldar at Prabhadevi. And if that wasn't enough - he even smiled at me. A good-looking pandu smiling one of the rarest phenomenon in Mumbai. So when I excitedly told my senior colleague about it, I expected her to be surprised. Instead, what I got was, "Why the hell were you looking at a pandu? Your generation is weird." Phew!

"This cabbie can speak English. We'd better shut up"

We were returning home by cab after an afternoon show of the film Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (that's one of the worst versions of Mary Poppins I have come across). Our middle-aged cabbie slowed down at the Haji Ali signal. While we waited for the lights to turn green, he whisked out his cellphone (don't cabbies love to flaunt them in front of passengers?). In impeccable English he asked the person at the other end: "What's for dinner dude?" "No drinks today, please. Let's have fish. Yeah, prawns are fine. Prawns it is!" I was impressed. But mom was a little un comfortable. I remarked on one of the hoardings when mom turned to me and said, "Don't speak in English. 'He' (cabbie) can understand. Speak in Bengali."

It reminds me of this incident in Byculla last year. My photographer and I were on an assignment to do a story on the fledging Byculla vegetable market. I wanted to interview a few shopkeepers about the business. I started off in Hindi, only to get a response from one of them in pucca 'Oxbridge' English - "There was a time when people would come here from far-flung suburbs to buy fresh veggies, but now we don't see any of that. Those days are gone." I felt silly that I had assumed that a vegetable seller may not know English.