Of the 100 years of cinema in Mumbai, I can account for 70 of them.
I am not quite sure what was the first film I saw in my life. Probably, it was ‘Sant Tukaram', the life of the Maharashtrian saint. It had a long run at Central Cinema, and though tickets were not a problem in those days, I think we had to book these in advance. I remember only one scene from the film, but I remember it vividly. There is a famine, Sant Tukaram prays, and suddenly there is a shower of the rice and a large, high pile collects on the ground. I spent years (weeks) trying to figure out how they had pictured the scene.
I next remember going with my father to see ‘The Thief Of Baghdad' at Edward in Kalbadevi. The cinema still stands, almost exactly as it was then, it must be among the oldest cinemas in the city, probably country. The film had Sabu, an elephant boy from the jungles of Mysore, who was taken to Hollywood, who was taken to Hollywood and made into a star. It was a film of magic and marvels and for many years remained my favourite film.
My father, who was not much of a filmgoer, must also have been impressed by it, because directly from Edward we went to Eros to see ‘Crash Dive', a film about submarines and U-boats in the Second World War, starring Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter. That also became one of my favourite films. In those uncritical years, every film I saw became my favourite film.
Regal was a cinema we went to regularly, or, I should say, more often than any other. A neighbour, Homi Tata, was in charge of its air-conditioning plant, probably the first such plant in the city, and, when my aunt visited the cinema, because she was elderly and could not bear too much cold, he lowered the air-conditioning a little for her.
I remember being taken to Metro the week it opened. The area outside the foyer, where the booking offices are, blazed with lights. I do not remember the name of the film, but it had something to do with Napoleon Bonaparte.
Metro continued to be my favourite theatre. Underneath each seat were the air-conditioning bins (the theatre's slogan was: ‘every seat a cool retreat'), and, with your ticket, they gave you a programme booklet, compliments of the house. Before the main shows, a Tom and Jerry cartoon, Fitzpatrick's Travel Talks, a Laurel-Hardy short, a Pete Smith Special, a Crime Does Not Pay two-reeler.
I did not see many Hindi films then (because I was not taken to many), but I saw Sohrab Modi's ‘Pukar' at the old Minerva. A dhobi's wife (dhoban) loses her husband, shot accidently by the Mughal queen. She comes to the court of Sohrab Modi, the king, for justice. He picks up the bow and arrow, hands it to the dhoban, and tells her, in flowery Urdu: "Since my wife shot your husband, you shoot me." Applause.