Bombay’s historic Capitol




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Victorian Gothic cinema house in south Mumbai built during the British colonization of India. The Capitol is one of the oldest cinema houses located across from the city’s main train station. Over the years, lack of maintenance and upkeep, changes in liner tenants, unregulated and inappropriate façade changes (lit box signs and window air conditioning units), and competition from new and modernized multi-screen cinema houses have driven this once-popular family movie house to cater to a more B-rated film audience.

HT story from a couple of years ago:

Once upon a Screen: CAPITOL CINEMA (Estd. 1879) The gilt-edged gallery still stays S IX MONTHS after it switched on its projector for one last show, Capitol Cinema is now overrun with made-up, neon clothed tweens waiting for their shots during a Bollywood film shoot. The irony is almost comical – the theater has journeyed from a balmy December night in 1879, when it opened with a British drama played out for a very proper European public, to a humid afternoon some 130 years later, where it is playing the sidekick in a B-grade Hindi film.

Capitol first appeared as Gaiety – a Gothic playhouse meant to provide the Fort area’s upper-class residents with an alternative to the Jagannath Shankar Seth Natyashala, the only other theatre located in the seedy Grant Road area. The edifice was built by Sorabji Kuverji Nazir, and was an exercise in excess, with a 40 by 70 ft long stage and a seating capacity of 880.

The painting of the backdrop scene, monitored by the then Governor Wilson himself, featured a grand panorama of the Bombay skyline – the University Clock Tower, the Victoria Terminus and the University buildings.

When the Sidhwas, a Parsi family which also owns the Globe theatre in Kolkata, bought over the theater in 1929 and turned it into a ‘talkies’, the seats were replaced with fine leather. A magnificent domed ceiling was added, and it was renamed the Capitol. Its first show– the premiere of a British film called The Flag Lieutenant – was attended by the Governor and his wife. A black-and-white image of Parsi ladies and suited Indians sitting next to British officers at the premiere still hangs from a wall in the manager’s office.

Over the last decade though, Capitol, unable to bear the cost of its maintenance –– approximately Rs 50,000 per month – has lost much of its former glory and began showing reruns of old Bollywood films for which no taxes were to be paid.

Now, the building stands unused and lonely And inside, only the debris of a long career . remains – a lopsided Now Showing board, an unmanned canteen with the prices still scrawled across it, and a gilt-edged gallery box from where rich Englishmen once watched operas.

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6 Responses to “Bombay’s historic Capitol”

  1. I hope Aarkayne has some stories to share on this one as well or on the earlier Strand post..

    • LOL , but I do. Alright it was the year of the release of Satyajit Ray’s ARANYAR DIN RAATRI. I believe it had won a national award and needless to say my dad wanted his family to be exposed to this film. The only place it was showing was a at CAPITOL on an weekday afternoon. Since he was already in the vicinity doing the rounds of the ad. agencies(people will have to read the background around this in one of my earlier posts), he had asked my mother to bring herself and us kids to the theater to catch the 3pm show. My mother being the homemaker was under immense pressure to collect us kids from school(i must have been in the 5th or 6th grade) feed us lunches, put us in the train and bring us to VT, an hour long journey from the suburbs. So poor thing was running abominably late and was very, very worried. I was excited for this outing in the middle of the week to see a movie(by then i was a hopeless addict of moving images that also made sound). Alas, we reached so late, it was interval by then. My dad was livid, my mom really sheepish and us kids were somewhat confused that instead of a Rajesh Khanna flick, we were watching a movie in a language NONE of us understood, and which was also in Black & White. some of the images I still remember from then are Simi in a triba woman’s dress and a handsome looking bloke talking to her (who later I was informed was also the hero of GUDDI – Samit Bhanja). I have not managed to re-watch ARANYAR DIN RAATRI till date, however the one thing I did learn of was the great Ray’s name. So the next time they showed CHARULATA on DD, and i was visiting a friend’s place who owned a TV set, I proudly claimed I had seen another film by the same maker and pretended to understand it. I also remember images from that movie of a handsome Soumitra Chatterjee and ofcourse the beautiful Madhabi Mukherjee playing the lead role.

      As a follow up to the above fiasco of reaching late to Capitol, several years later we had another opportunity of visiting the theater, this time to watch a Kannada blockbuseter of the year starring Dr.Raj Kumar(he had not been conferred the doctorate yet) – ERADU KANASU(Two Dreams). Needless to say, mom had made no improvement in assessing time taken to travel and to reach the theater on time. This time too we reached at the interval and my Dad was completely silent this time. That was the last outing we ever tried as a family to watch films in the middle of the week :-D

      • Man you are amazing! You’ve led the fullest life possible with regard to Bombay theaters! Remarkable! Ray’s aranyer din ratri at the Capitol. What more could one want from life?! You should definitely watch the first half though! The Indian DVD on this (which is the only one in circulation) has a very good transfer. I revisited it some months ago in the theater and it’s truly hypnotic on the big screen. And Simil Garewal as the tribal charms one, kid or adult!

      • I say this in all seriousness.. you should really collect all your thoughts on Bombay cinema and compile them in a collection.. really run through all the cinemas you have experience of.. I would pre-order the book!

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