Last Day, Last Show: With Chandan Cinema Gone, Is This the End of Mumbai’s Affair With Single-Screens?

Pop Culture

Last Day, Last Show: With Chandan Cinema Gone, Is This the End of Mumbai’s Affair With Single-Screens?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

For most young people of this generation, surge pricing is something you pay for an Uber during rush hour, but there was a time when the term meant picking up tickets to a sold-out movie at the rate of “dus ka tees” from a scalper. The year was 2001, and my friends and I had paid a 3X surge price to get tickets to watch Lagaan at Chandan Cinema.

When the Champaner XI won the match against the hated angrez, the entire theatre erupted. Suddenly, there was no class, language or religious divide. We all were dancing in a celebratory frenzy. That’s when it hit me – literally. Something whacked the back of my head and I realised that people from the balcony were throwing coins at the screen, to celebrate the success and victory. Back home, my dad told me it was an old custom, forgotten over time, when viewers threw coins to express their joy at the screen.

While I won’t miss the feeling of having loose change chucked at my head, it’s impossible not to feel wistful about hearing that the same Chandan Cinema I saw Lagaan and countless other movies at, is downing its shutters. It will soon give way for a shopping mall and a multiplex, going the route of so many other single-screen theatres in Mumbai, with their decades-old history and unique stories lost to time.

Chandan is – was – in Juhu, or as my mother used to say, “Amitabh ke bangle ke paas”. The theatre of choice for any movie buff living in and around Andheri. Sure, the Parla crowd had Shaan, but they never had the A1 samosa, which Chandan offered. Over its 50 years of existence, Chandan has screened everything from golden oldies, to Lagaan, to last month’s Gully Boy. Now, if you’re the type that goes “Shhh!” at others in the theatre, Chandan or any single-screen is not the place for you. Seetis, gaalis, and exclamations accompany the entire runtime of a film. I watched Avengers: Infinity War in Chandan, and when Thor reached Wakanda, there was an uproar of close to three minutes, with shouts of “Ab dangal hoga!” and “Chandan main aaya bhoot, Thanos ki maa ki…” I guess you know where that sentence is going.

No longer will the board outside the ticket booth greet regulars with a sign proclaiming “180 Balcony / 90 Stall”.

Simply put, if you truly want to know what a Mumbai crowd is like there are only a few places you should go to: Wankhede Stadium, Gaiety-Galaxy, and Chandan.

But single-screens like Chandan are fast losing ground to multiplexes. The model has been in decline for years now. As far back as 2010, a BBC report quoted Sameer Joshi, the owner of Chandan, as saying that the cinema had been sliding downwards since the 1980s. That 2010 report states that the owners of Chandan had managed to buy some time and stall the cinema’s demise by carrying out renovations and refurbishments. Nine years on, Chandan’s time has finally run out.

Even as the beloved cinema plays its final show, there are still those who remember a time when it was one of the premier theatres in the city. Gopi Nair, a senior teacher of production at Whistling Woods International, recalls when Sooraj Barjatya’s superhit Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! released. Barjatya issued a diktat of sorts, which said that if the theatre didn’t have AC, he wouldn’t exhibit his film. Chandan was one of the first to comply and duly set an air-conditioning system, which then allowed them to run Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! successfully for 50 weeks straight. The theatre was one of the first to switch to Dolby Digital sound, when 1942: A Love Story released.

With the closing of Chandan, a chapter of Mumbai’s cultural history has reached its coda. No longer will the board outside the ticket booth greet regulars with a sign proclaiming “180 Balcony / 90 Stall”. There will be no more whistles when the hero makes his entrance, no “oohs and aahs” for the villain’s machinations, and no more celebrations when good finally triumphs over evil. What will remain however, is the memory of the moments when the magic of celluloid mixed with the madness of reality to create something that couldn’t exist anywhere else except here, right here at Chandan Cinema.