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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.

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