Colaba’s iconic Regal cinema stares at shutdown as losses mount


By
Khalid Mohamed




The cinema has been racking up a loss of Rs 1 cr annually; talks with a multiplex chain to add at least two more screens and a food court have been unsuccessful so far.

Regal, one of the city’s oldest single screen cinemas as well as its first air-conditioned theatre, is on its last breath.

“It’s just a matter of time. Regal could close down any day,” rues Kamal Sidhwa Taraporevala, granddaughter of Faramji Sidhwa who founded the cinema 85 years ago.



In recent years, the cinema has been posting a loss of Rs 1 crore annually. The average occupancy rate has dwindled to around 15-20 per cent of the 1,160 stand-alone seater. Ticket sales have nosedived drastically since the proliferation of multiplexes at the turn of the millennium.

Compared to the hefty rates of multiplexes spiralling between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 a pop, the tickets are moderately priced between Rs 150 and Rs 250. For potential blockbuster Bollywood movies produced by the top banners, the rates are hiked at the market strategy of the distributors who take away the lion’s share of the revenue.

Run by a board of directors of Globe Theatres, Regal—like one of its other cinema properties, the Capitol right opposite the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminus—is more than likely to fall into a state of neglect. The Capitol closed down 11years ago.

Both Kamal and her cousin Jal Tata, who is on the board of directors, point out that while retaining its heritage status, Regal could be redesigned to include at least two more screens and a food court. Negotiations with a multiplex conglomerate, however, have been fruitless so far.

Faramji, who started out as an usher-cum-projectionist in a horse-stable-turned-cinema in Rangoon, had partnered with businessman and philanthropist Kaikhushroo Kooka to lease the land at Colaba Causeway since it was just a stroll away from the naval base and a luxury hotel patronised by international travellers.

The two-storey Art Deco structure and its interiors were assigned to the British architect Charles Stevens and the Czech artist Karl Schara, respectively.

Regal opened its doors on October 4, 1933, with the Laurel and Hardy feature The Devil’s Brother. The comic duo had sent a telegram of congratulations to the Regal management.

Following Faramji’s death, his son Dhunji nurtured the cinema, upgrading it with a 70 mm screen and Dolby sound system, after acquiring a degree in sound and motion picture engineering from the New York University.

Jal Tata, a virtual encyclopaedia of movie lore, recalls that Filmfare Award functions were held at the cinema for four years in the 1950s. Music concerts by the legendary violinst and conductor Yehudi Menuhin and singer Marian Anderson were hosted there to packed houses. Among the top international movies which scored the longest runs at the cinema are The Sound of Music (38 weeks), Enter the Dragon (31 weeks), The Ten Commandments (31 weeks), Titanic (30 weeks) and Gandhi (26 weeks). Every James Bond movie would generally score a run of 20 weeks.

Once, the Regal foyers used to be adorned with original Hollywood studio portraits of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Lewis, Cary Grant and Charlton Heston. With time, though, these have vanished with the wind. Perhaps, they faded and were shredded.

However, the cinema largely still retains its Art Deco ambience, like the tall mirror panel embossed with Uncle Oscar, the trophy presented at the Academy Awards ceremonies.

Kamal recalls that during his last years, her father Dhunji was depressed. She adds: “His last words to us were to preserve Regal but convert it into a multi-screener. The family has always been emotionally attached to the legacy but unless we are practical, we would be fighting for a lost cause.”

Is the imminent closure of Regal absolutely final, then? Kamal’s despondent response: “Yes, unless there’s a miracle.”

In a multiplex-driven market, the Art Deco cinema at Colaba Causeway still prices its tickets between Rs 150 and Rs 250

In a multiplex-driven market, the Art Deco cinema at Colaba Causeway still prices its tickets between Rs 150 and Rs 250



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