Ever since I got myself a VCR, I have stopped going to the cinemas. The loss is mine.
I have fond memories of the cinemas. Going with my father to Edward Cinema at Kalbadevi to see The Thief Of Baghdad, John Hall, Maria Monte and Sabu, the Elephant Boy from India. And all those films of Carmen Miranda, the cuban Bombshell with a fruit basket on her head, at the Regal Nights in Rio, Buenos Aires, down Argentina way.
The Regal, I think, was the first cinema I visited, or rather the first cinema I was taken to. In between American films, it would get an occasional British film, with such outstanding performers as James Mason, Margarer Lockwood, Anna Neagale, our very own Richard Attenborough.
It was the best cinema in town, probably still is. The first cinema to show moving pictures, the first to be air-conditioned, the first building in Bombay with an underground car-park, the first and only soda-fountain. The weighing machines drew cards with your weight and fortune on one side and picture of Clark Gable, Robert Taylor and other Hollywood worthies on the other.
I remember seeing a lot of crime films at the Regal. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Richard Widmark with his high-pitched imbecile laughter (I have explored all the video libraties in Bombay and have been unable to find a Richard Widmark of that vinitage), and James Cagney, the villainest villain of them all. I remember crying a little at the end of Angels With Dirty Faces, as Cagney pretends to be a coward and dies screaming in the electric chair. Recently, I got a copy of the film from Stan's Video Library, but it did not have the same effect on me.
Metro came up much later. People said and English cinema in Dhobi Talao would not work. It did. They used to advertise - every seat a cool retreat. Now it may be a nest for bugs, cockroaches and other vermins, I would not know.
Metro belonged to MGM, and MGM meant musicals, some of the greatest musicals the world has known. In The Good Old Summertime, Annie Get Your Gun, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Till The Clouds Roll By, Showboat, all the Frank Sinatra, June Allyson, Joan Powell, Gene Kelly, Betty Hutton films. And the best and most successful of all was Bathing Beauty with Esther Williams and Red Skelton. All Bombay went to see the Bathing beauties, again and again and again.
About the same time Eros also came up, with fine lace curtains, an auditorium that changed colours during the interval, cold coffee in silver tumblers, and the best of Warner Brothers and Universal International.
Excelsior and Empire were the old pre-renovated ones, with the fouranna seats on rows of football stadium benches in the rear of the cinema. You had to climb to the top, floor after floor. But I was young and I used to run up. Now I am old and I sit in front of the video in my bedroom. It is not the same thing.