The building that housed Jaya and Mini Jaya cinemas are being pulled down. Demolition work began about five months ago. The owners are planning to build a shopping mall with retail stores and a multiplex cinema on the top floor. Monojit Banik, the owner of Jaya cinema, said: “We have not tied up with any multiplex chain. We are building our own brand. We will have shops, restaurants, food courts and definitely a multiplex with halls for screening of films. We hope the project will be ready by 2025.
"After the lockdown, the 774-seater Jaya had opened to dismal ticket sales and low footfall in November 2020. The owners and staff were sceptical whether the hall would ever see pre-pandemic numbers again. To add to their woes, a fire broke out in July 2021 at the 442-seater Mini Jaya, after which the hall was forced to shut down operations. Though there were no casualties, most parts of the building suffered irreparable damages, the owner says. More than 15 fire tenders had to be called in to douse the flames. The two halls have never been reopened after that incident.
Monojit says talks are on with several companies to set up the mall and the multiplex. "The mall will first come up, over three storeys, but the multiplex will surely follow above it,” he says.
Monojit’s father Manik Banik was in Class VI when Monojit’s grandfather Gouranga Chandra Banik and granduncles Nityananda and Manorajan started Jaya Cinema. “The first film to be screened was Uttam Kumar’s Jibon Mrityu. Uttam Kumar had come down for the screening along with Supriya Debi to check out the kind of crowd we had in this part of the city. That was in 1967. The Mini Jaya auditorium was added in the late 1970s. After that, we screened several blockbusters that saw huge crowds.
The last film to be screened was the Hrithik Roshan-Tiger Shroff starrer War, which released in October 2019 and also did great business, the owners say.
Local residents get nostalgic when they talk about their experience at Jaya cinema. Soumyadeep Banik, a resident of Bangur Avenue, said: “I had tuition classes from 4pm to 7pm. I used to bunk tuition classes and go for the evening show. I made sure I came out at 6.30pm, otherwise I would get caught at home. The final half hour that I missed at the hall I would watch on cable TV since they inevitably played the latest film on Sundays.”
Agreed Tamoghno Bhattacharya, a resident of Bangur Avenue. “We used to walk down to Lake Town from Bangur Avenue. Once I remember my parents and I were there for a night show. The person sitting behind us was unhappy with the film and he kept on mouthing obscenities while watching every other scene. My mother was so upset that she covered my ears with both her hands, since she couldn't stop that person from saying such things. It was hilarious!”
“There are several shops on the ground floor which we have rented out since the 1960s. Those shops will also get space in the new building, in the exact position that they have now,” Monojit says.But the shop-owners are on tenterhooks. There has been a verbal communication assuring them space in the new building but that has not assuaged their fears. Aryash Yadav, owner of Kalpana Niketan, said: “There is no legal paperwork on the matter. We are totally in the dark about what is going to happen next. Mine is a bedding and mattress store. All my stock is getting wet because of all the construction work causing water leakage from the ceiling.”
After the fire at Mini Jaya in July 2021.Debsmita Bhattacharjee
Alok Bhattacharya, owner of LN Studio, said: “My family has been running this photo studio since 1968. Before the demolition work began, the owners sent their security guards and called us for a casual meeting. He told us that he was going to demolish the building and build a mall with a multiplex. He told us we could leave and set up shop elsewhere if we thought that the work would hamper our business. But where can we go? This is our bread and butter. We can't just leave all of a sudden. He also told us that we would get space in the new building, but there has been no paperwork on the issue. So we really don't know for sure how much faith to have in this oral assurance.”
Shops on the ground floor of the cinema that face an uncertain future.Debasmita Bhattacharjee
The construction has created problems. “The electricity supply to my shop has been disrupted. Since mine is a photography studio, lights are vital. But with power supply getting interrupted, business has got hampered to a great extent. Also the ceiling is leaking, which is spoiling all my equipment. Earlier, I used to sell ice cream, but now I can't keep the fridge here. Due to long hours without power, all my supplies get wasted. When we spoke to the owners about this, they told us that we could leave if we wanted. But my question is why should we leave? We have been paying rent for all these years. How can he just ask us to leave?”
Remains of movie posters that announced the current shows.Debasmita Bhattacharjee
Banking on Jaya
Tarakeshwar Chowdhury has been selling alu kabli outside Jaya for 53 years. When asked about the state of things now, he almost broke down. “Jaya used to be a big name. I don’t know why they had to demolish it. Apart from the pandemic period, they always did very good business since this is the only cinema hall in this area,” he says.
The cinema hall being demolished.Debasmita Bhattacharjee
He remembers the visits of many big names back in the day — Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee, Kapil Dev... “There used to be long queues outside the gates just to catch a glimpse of them. Once Mahua Roychowdhury, the actress, dropped in. A friend was so mesmerised by her beauty that he opened a pan shop opposite Jaya cinema and called it Mahua Pan Dokan. My family lives in Muzaffarnagar in Bihar and I live in a small room in Dakshindari. Whenever I missed home, I used to walk into Jaya and watch a film. It made me happy. Films like Dadar Kirti, Prohar and Shotru drew huge crowds in those days. When Rishi Kapoor’s Bobby released in 1973, there was so much craze for the film that a man died of suffocation while trying to enter the hall, pushing through the crowd. That created a huge scandal and I remember security measures were beefed up after that,” he said.
Asked about how streetfood sales had been affected, he said: “Earlier we had steady sales. There were six or seven hawkers who sold phuchka, potato chips, etc. Now that the cinema hall is shut, the police are not letting us stand here. They chase us away whenever they see us. We have to avoid getting spotted by them and hide when the police are here. After they leave, we come out again and stand near the building. This cinema is our Lakshmi. How can we just let it go!”
Joydeb Banik was in charge of parking for all vehicles that came to Jaya cinema. While talking about the kind of traffic that he had had to manage during film shows, he said: “After every show, there used to be a huge queue of cars either waiting outside or trying to drop people at the cinema. People from well-off families also came here to watch films. I could make out because they came in cars like Mercedes and SUVs. On weekends, the roads were chock-a-block. Even for night shows, the traffic was huge. Most of the time we had no space for parking and had to ask people to drive away. They then parked their cars in nearby lanes. This was not just a cinema hall; it was an adda zone. There are so many restaurants and cafes that have come up around the hall. People came by in the evenings to spend time with friends here. After 6pm, this place was always abuzz with activity. All that is missing now.”
He refuses to accept that a shift in loyalties has taken place in cine-goers after multiplexes came in. “When Diamond Plaza opened on Jessore Road a lot of people did go there. But most of them came back to Jaya because the tickets were cheaper and the hall was bigger. A lot of people told me that they didn’t feel like going to a multiplex because Jaya was so close to their house. After a night show, you could just walk home. Also, this area is very safe. Women can walk on the streets after late night shows without any fear. That was the kind of reputation the cinema hall enjoyed. The future is uncertain, we don’t know what will happen when the new building comes up,” he said.
Inputs from Debasmita Bhattacharjee
What memories do you have of Jaya Cinema?