Some time ago, the facade of Deepak Cinema, on NM Joshi Road, Lower Parel, shed its old look when its walls with peeled-off paint and rusty metal gate were given a facelift. That’s not all that makes it inviting. At the newly-renovated theatre, each visitor receives an “owner’s welcome”. At least one member of the Shah family, which has been running it for four generations, is always present at the entrance to greet the audience before each show.
“By being around, we are trying to assure about the theatre’s quality control and crowd,” says Punit Shah, current owner of a revamped Deepak Cinema and heir to the Shah family. Seated next to him in his office is his mother Shobhana, who was the city’s only woman cinema owner (from 1998 to 2007) after her husband Sahadev Deraj Shah, passed away, barring Nilufer Dastur of Paradise cinema in Mahim. With Punit’s interior designer wife Manasi behind the hall’s beautification, and his brother-in-law Raj taking care of its finances, Deepak Cinema is a family-run business.
However, not so long ago, the two life-size white elephant models occupying the courtyard of Deepak Cinema could well have been symbols of problems the Shahs were saddled with. It was founded by Punit’s great grandfather Tokershi Jivraj Shah, a Kutchi landlord, who owned acres of land in the area. Spread over an acre in Lower Parel, it started as Deepak Talkies, a venue for circus shows and musicals until the arrival of the talkies in 1931. In its heyday, it had hosted famous stars and grand silver jubilees and was a favourite haunt of the mill workers in the later years.
The cinema house’s fortunes started dwindling nearly two decades ago. First, it failed to keep up with the post-millennium multiplex boom. Then, during 2007-2011, in a bid to stay afloat, it started showing mass movies in Bhojpuri, Telugu and Marathi. With water leakage, bug-infested seats and paan-stained walls, and a largely male-dominated crowd that would often turn unruly, Deepak Talkies was no longer a favourite destination for movies.
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“The theatre’s image desperately needed a makeover. We wanted to send out the message that Deepak is a good choice for women as well as families to watch a movie,” says Punit. On February 14 this year, the 88-year-old venue was renamed Deepak Cinema and opened its gates with a refurbished auditorium and state-of-the-art technology. The seating was reduced by almost half — to 480 from 850. This helped create comfortable seating with better leg space. Today, the theatre has valet parking and an online booking system, among other things. Another boost to its image came a couple of weeks ago when it announced that the Matterden Centre for Films and Creations, an alternative cinema hub, will show independent movies alongside regular new Hindi releases from September. As a precursor to that, its 7 pm slot is dedicated to showing world cinema classics. After Bicycle Thief and Roman Holiday, it is currently playing The General.
When Punit took over the family business in 2007, it was a shabby, ill-managed affair. Through his recent endeavours, Punit has tried to make the most of its space and charms that are almost antediluvian. Its main gates open to a long courtyard leading up to the auditorium, surrounded with a patch of green on either side. “Looking at the architecture, we thought this would be appreciated by more artistic minds. We were weighing other options of converting it into a space for fine arts. But then, I wanted the focus to be on cinema,” says the 30-year-old, also the General Secretary of the Cinema Owners & Exhibitors Association of India. True to that, Deepak is now renewing its bond with cinema, keeping newer sensibilities in mind.