Bombay’s historic Capitol
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.