Mumbai: The iconic Eros cinema hall at Churchgate, long veiled under a green curtain, has been refurbished and restored, and is set to draw a different generation of leisure seekers shortly. It was started in 1938 and had familiarised generations of Mumbaikars with the best of English cinema in its Art Deco setting, which has been preserved.
In its new avatar, Eros will be a 300-seater cinema on the upper storey apart from two levels of retail and food courts. Other landmark single-screen theatres in South Mumbai such as Liberty, Regal, New Excelsior, New Empire, Sterling and Central Plaza have all faced challenges to their existence amid the onslaught of multiplexes and the pandemic.
Atul Gupta, managing partner of Metro Realty, the firm which has undertaken redevelopment of Eros, said, “The structure will house a 300-seater cinema. It will become the first IMAX cinema hall in the world that is located in a 90-year-old building and will have two levels operating as retail and F&B spaces. We have preserved heritage Art Deco elements including the circular lobby, staircases, murals and other features, just as we did in Metro Cinema. We have honoured all heritage guidelines.” Gupta said, “The theatre was shut for 10 years, and we decided to take over after our successful experience of renovating Metro Cinema as an 8-screen multiplex. So we signed a deal with the owners of Eros, the Cambata family, who continue to own the property but have given it to us on lease for 30 years.”Conservation architect Kirtida Unwalla was the consultant entrusted with preserving the Art Deco ethos of the Grade 2A cinema hall. She said, “The essential elements of the Art Deco form are all preserved. In fact, we have not only preserved but enhanced the 6-ft-tall artistic panels depicting the journey of cinema and other arts. The famous 2 staircases are still there, and we have retained and restored the old doors and windows on the ground floor. The ‘frozen fountain’ has been reproduced to the scale possible. That is a rich element of Art Deco. We have carried out all the work after securing permission from the heritage committee.” The new features too are in sync with the Art Deco style, including a canopy of light.Meanwhile, speculation surrounding the new cinema gathered steam online. Eros theatre team invited those who had expressed misgivings and alleviated their doubts at a trial show a few days ago.
Single-screen theatres have fallen on hard times. Mrunal Gole, owner of Liberty Cinema, said the hall has been shut since Covid with government rules not enabling relaunch. Nitin Datar, president of COEIA (Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association, India), said a list of policies has forced a majority of the 150 single screens in Mumbai to shut. “Barely 40-50 halls are left. If one refurbishes a large theatre, it can cost up to Rs 1 lakh per seat to do so, given the expenses on AC, seating, projection and other infrastructure. Our ticket rates are Rs 40-70, how can we manage?” he said.
Amid the gloom, one single-screen theatre that has got its revenue model right is Hindmata Gold in Dadar. General manager Amit Singh said, “We thankfully have 80-90% occupancy and we show the latest movies because our ticket and food rates are accessible. Many families are returning to single screens given the low costs.”