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Playing: Riches-to-rags saga

HALL-MARK I Metro cinema could yet live to tell another tinsel tale following a makeover, but the lights have long gone out on many of its peers in the New Market area. Metro checked out some of the standalone halls south of Metro and found a godown, a bazaar, a mart, a banquet, a sleaze-show site and one cinema!

Tiger Cinema

Where: Jawaharlal Nehru Road, close to the Lindsay Street crossing.

Then: The first show of Cine Central, the largest film society in the country, was held at Tiger in October 1965. Its signature tune used to be the jazz composition Tiger Rag. From Hollywood biggies to soccer films, the no-balcony hall played it all.

Now: The trend of standalone cinemas turning into garment stores started with Tiger (remember Vishal Garments?). It is now a low-cost clothes bazaar for men, women, teens and kids.The building and its pillars are painted glossy red and steel grey. At the entrance, hawkers occupy pride of place, waving T-shirts from one side and belts, bags, watches and pocket radios from the other. Glass cabinets have been fixed to the building wall to hold fancy accessories and electronic gadgets being sold from the pavement. Inside what used to be the auditorium are rows and rows of saris and shirts, teddies and towels.

Elite

Where: SN Banerjee Road, at the mouth of the lane leading to Aminia and Nizam’s.

Then: According to www.cinematreasures.org, Elite had opened before 1915. It was then known as the Palace of Varieties. In 1938, it was renamed Elite.

The building was remodelled in the art deco style following the plans of British architect MA Riddley Abbott. The work was completed in 1948 by local architect John Berchmans Fernandes after Abbott’s death.

Elite reopened in 1950 with the John Wayne-starrer Red River. The exterior of the building still has a slim tower feature and moulded deco bands across the facade. The ceiling of the auditorium has concealed lighting and seating is in stalls and circles.

Around 1955, the hall was taken over for a while by 20th Century Fox as the showcase cinema for their films in Calcutta. The original proscenium was torn down and a wider one built.

The first Hindi film to be screened was Hare Rama Hare Krishna in 1971, on a special request from Dev Anand.

Now: The 1,228-seater hall is currently screening the Shahid Kapoor-Priyanka Chopra starrer Teri Meri Kahaani.

The cinema is in need of a fresh coat of paint but it still draws a crowd. “We have not changed the hall’s appearance much because we prefer to keep its antique look. That is why we have not removed the Burma teak woodwork from the walls,” said Manash Bhattacharya, the manager of the hall since 1999.

The cinema that was reserved only for Hollywood films now survives on a Bollywood diet. The tickets are priced moderately at Rs 80 and Rs 50.

“Although we have kept the hall going, a bit of support from the government in terms of infrastructure will make us more secure,” he added.

Jamuna

Where: Marquis Street (off Free School Street).

Then: Jamunadas Behrunani unveiled the hall in 1977 with a show of the Shashi Kapoor-Vinod Khanna-Shabana Azmi-Parveen Babi starrer Chor Sipahi. For years, it screened a variety of Hollywood films, from starry to sleazy. By 1998, the owners had realised that running the hall was not viable. Following huge losses, union trouble and a lockout, the cinema downed shutters in 2001.

Now: In 2005, it reopened doors as a banquet hall. The seats, projector and giant screen had been wheeled out, to create space for wedding ceremonies, parties, conferences and exhibitions.

Jamuna Banquets has now established itself as a corporate banquet facility. By day, corporate events like workshops, meetings and seminars are allowed. Social events are hosted in the evenings and on holidays.

“We have tied up with more than 700 corporate houses. We record almost full occupancy during the day round the year. Business shot up after the banqueting facility was introduced,” says Pranab Mazumdar, senior manager (marketing), Jamuna Banquets.

Six banquet halls spread over two floors that can host “15 to 1,500” persons have been done up with marble floors, textured walls, paintings, soft lighting and woodwork.

Vishu Behrus, whose father Jamunadas set up the hall, has been joined by two others in a three-way partnership.

Chaplin

Where: Next to New Market, opposite the Calcutta Municipal Corporation headquarters.

Then: Chaplin was known as Minerva till the early 1980s. It had been set up by the theatre and film producer and exhibitor, Jamshedji Framji Madan, and was owned by the CMC. The civic body leased the cinema out to the West Bengal Film Development Corporation in 1990. The lease ended in 2005.

Now: The hall has since been turned into an office building.The large semi-circular structure in a bustling corner of New Market is a sorry sight. The metal boards lining its walls that once sported film banners stand bare. The paint is peeling off the walls. Chaplin now serves as a “godown for the CMC”. Another part of the hall is used as an office for issuing SC, ST and OBC certificates. So much for the city loving its cinema and even more so its Charlie Chaplin.

Society

Where: Corporation Place, off Nizam’s.

Then: The hall was set up in 1948 mainly for the screening of Hindi films. It was shut in 2002 after a portion of its balcony collapsed, killing four people. The civic body had seized the keys claiming that the hall’s lease term had expired. It reopened in 2004.

Now: The giant art deco structure is in a bad shape. The box-office shutters maybe down but a flicker of light from inside, the shuffle of footsteps and tiny posters on the walls tell you that the hall still runs. The grille gates have been kept ajar for the patrons to slip in surreptitiously since C-grade adult movies have replaced Pakeezah and Mughal-E-Azam on the screen.

Tickets are priced at Rs 35 for the dress circle and Rs 25 for the rear stall.

“The standalone halls are not in a good state now. We are in a difficult situation but somehow surviving,” said B.K. Dutta, the manager of the hall.