Calcutta’s Lighthouse cinema

this theater opened in 1938..



In Calcutta, going to the cinema is not the same any longer

The bar at Metro cinema

Once, when I was a tiny thing, and had just returned from our regular Saturday evening film show, my formidable uncle asked me which scene I liked best in the Hollywood Hercules film my father had taken us to watch in Lighthouse cinema. “Muscles” should have been the honest answer, but I was clever enough not to come out with the truth. It was my guilty secret. Instead, I said I loved the scene in which the maidens were swimming underwater in a blue haze. I had already made my choice, or, who knows, perhaps my maker had done me the honour, but I knew that an illusion was more enticing than veracity. Which is why I love the cinema so much.

Change is inevitable, and going to the movies is not the same any longer. Most stand-alone cinemas have turned into cut-price garment stores. The trend started with Tiger, that bug-infested hotbox, whose signature tune used to be the “Tiger Rag”. A colleague’s mother reminded me the other day that it was also the signature tune of Lighthouse (great place to shop for rags now). The high discomfort level notwithstanding, some fine Hollywood films were screened in this hall. Hindi films were taboo in most Bengali families in those days (they never doubted their cultural superiority), and few students from Anglo-Indian schools would ever admit to watching or enjoying them, although, I am sure, they did both on the sly. Hence ‘Bollywood’ (the term was not in currency then) was banned from these homes of Hollywood stars in central Calcutta.

I was about seven when I went for my first night show. The film was Witness for the Prosecution. We used to live in Howrah then, and I remember how my father drove us across the bridge in what seemed the dead of the night. The film was interminable, and the chatter was endless. Marlene Dietrich’s witchery meant nothing to me then. In fact, I found Charles Laughton’s remarkable ugliness more fascinating, and distinctly remember the monocle test he subjected Tyrone Power to. I also remember clearly that delightful contrivance — the electric stair-chair — on which Laughton’s barrister shuttled up and down the banisters. I thought I had seen the film at Minerva (later renamed Chaplin, now closed), which was notorious for its rats. But theatre person Debotosh Ghosh corrected me. He was with Bohurupee then, and used to see it in reverse on the screen at New Empire, where plays were also staged.

In the 1980s, when I visited Lucknow for the first time, I saw Saaransh in a cinema which took me back to Metro in its heyday. By then, Metro cinema, which for years was Calcutta’s favourite tryst, had become seedy, but this Lucknow theatre was still in full bloom. The pile carpeting was thick enough for, as they said, one’s feet to sink in, just as in yesteryear Metro. The lights were brilliant, as in Metro, which had art deco lamps in keeping with its architectural style. The walls of Metro, like the ones in New Empire, were lined with mirrors, and had murals of, as far as I can remember, woods with deer. More important, blow-ups of matinee idols and screen sirens stared down at you from them. The plush seats with velvet covers were dark maroon, and with tiny lights fitted into each chair along the aisles; one felt one was in a pleasure dome. The feeling was accentuated by the air-conditioning, a luxury beyond the wildest dreams of middle-class cineastes in that pre-EMI era.

When 70 mm films began to be screened at Jyoti cinema, they created a minor sensation. The film, South Pacific, was my first exposure to a new genre, the Broadway musical, albeit a filmed version. Juanita Hall’s song, “Bali Ha’i”, was hypnotic, and so were the rainbow colours that changed from moment to moment as the ‘indigenous’ old woman cast her spell on the callow marine and the audience. But the short film that introduced Todd-AO, the widescreen format, was gut-churning. It took viewers on a hairy roller-coaster ride that was never-ending. Subsequently, I saw a series of films in the 70 mm format but the South Pacific experience left me feeling as “High as a flag on the fourth of July”.

Sunday morning shows gave one a wonderful opportunity to catch up on films one had missed earlier. On Sunday mornings, Hollywood films were screened not only in theatres in Calcutta but in Howrah as well, and occasionally in the St Xavier’s hall. For Autumn Sonata, we had to queue up for hours. No more queues today, no more scalpers, no more fights with soda-water bottles among gangs of ‘blackers’ — a regular before films were released every Friday. Then one Sunday morning, it all went wrong. Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black was being screened, but all the reels hadn’t arrived. As the Jeanne Moreau character was about to get her penultimate victim, the film came to a halt, the lights came up, there was commotion, and in 15 minutes we were out in the midday sun.


6 Responses to “Calcutta’s Lighthouse cinema”

  1. Again a legend post .. stunning pics ….

    About Sholay Quiz … check here :

    Guys, Please try at least, is it so tough ?

    At least look at quiz and try as many answers as you know. will be appreciated. I need encouragement to bring more pieces like this.


    • No idea about the new questions except that I know the only Filmfare it won was for editing.


    • aajkaarjun Says:

      Yakuja try this 🙂 (courtesy:Outlook)

      1. The site for Sholay was a place called

      White fields

      2. Sholay was the first of its kind in Indian films. It had :

      70 mm with stereophonic sound
      Cinemascope with Dolby sound

      3. Who in Sholay had the name of a well-known composer known for his compositions in ‘Hum Dono’ (1961)?

      Amitabh Bachchan
      Sanjeev Kumar
      A K Hangal

      4. By running for a record 5 years, Sholay broke the record set by which film?

      K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam
      Mehboob’s Mother India
      Gyan Mukherjee’s Kismet

      5. In which theatre did Sholay have its magical run?

      Roxy, Calcutta
      Chanakya, New Delhi
      Minerva, Bombay

      6. After Sholay, the song Mehbooba Mehbooba was used to market a product. What was it?

      Mills & Boons
      VIP briefs

      7. The day ‘Sholay’ was released, all major offices were closed. Why?

      It was a Sunday
      It was 15th August
      It was 2nd October

      8. If you can remember numbers, what was the number of Amitabh’s motorcycle used during the sequence of ‘Yeh dosti’?

      MYB 3047
      MYB 4037
      MYD 7043

      9. Sholay had 2 ad lines, one of them being ‘ The greatest story ever told’. Incidentally this was also the name of a Hollywood film based on a famous book. What was the book?

      Romeo and Juliet
      War and Peace

      10. Who played Master Alankar’s mother in the film?

      Mita Vasisth
      Gita Siddharth
      Nirupa Roy

      11. What game did Gabbar play with Kaalia & Company?

      Strip Poker
      Russian Roulette
      Ghanaian Roulette

      12. Ramgarh ke Sholay was a film made in 1991 based on Sholay. Who played Gabbar in the film?

      Sharat Saxena
      Amrish Puri
      Amjad Khan himself

      13. In Sholay, what is the claim to fame of a person called Viju Khote?

      He played Kaalia
      He directed the fight sequences
      He was Dharam’s double during the stunts

      14. Which of these songs was not written for Sholay – 1.O jabtak hai jaan 2. Chalo saheli chalo re Saathi 3. Aa shuru hota hai fir

      1 only
      1 & 3 only
      All songs were written for Sholay

      15. This person associated with Sholay once played one of Shammi Kapoor’s buddies in the film ‘Teesri Manzil’. He was:

      Amjad Khan
      Salim Khan
      R D Burman

      16. Thakur Saab’s full name in Sholay was

      Thakur Jarnail Singh
      Thakur Baldev Singh
      Thakuar Ranbir Singh

      17. Which of the star’s in Sholay started his career in a film which had the famous song ‘Mujhko is raat ki tanhai mein awaaz na do’?


      18. For all the greatness of Sholay, it won only one Filmfare award. What was it?

      Best director – Ramesh Sippy
      Best actor in a parallel role – Amjad Khan
      Best editing – M R Shinde

      19. As per Javed Ahktar, Sholay was inspired primarily from which famed Western?

      Magnificent Seven
      The Unforgiven

      20. According to Asha Bhonsle, who was originally supposed to sing ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’?

      She herself
      Amitabh Bachchan
      Usha Iyer (Uthup)

      21. Gabbar Singh was the first villain to endorse a product. What was it? ( he did many more after that)

      Tata Tea
      Parle G Biscuits
      Britannia Glucose D Biscuits

      22. ‘Sholay, the making of a classic’ is a national award winning book on our favourite subject, written by Anupama Chopra, who incidentally is the wife of a famous film personality, Who ?

      Prem Chopra
      Vidhu Vinod
      Manoj Bajpai

      23. Danny’s shooting spree in Afghanistan was instrumental in a way in the success of Sholay. How?

      He brought technicians from there for the fight sequences
      Amajd Khan got the Gabbar role on the rebound
      He financed the film as he had earned in Dinars

      24. To which director was the story of Sholay first floated by Salim-Javed?

      Prakash Mehra
      Ramesh Sippy
      Manmohan Desai

      25. What connects Ramesh Sippy (the director of Sholay), Nitin Mukesh and Amartya Sen?

      All went to London School of Economics
      All began their careers as small time actors
      All graduated from Ruia College, Bombay


  2. Some hard questions there?


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