IN A city that is home to the Hindi film industry, a road named Cinema remains curiously a little known place. Neither does it find a crowd of enthusiasts clicking selfies against the board announcing Cinema Road nor is it part of guided city tours. The lane behind Metro Cinema in the Dhobi Talao area in South Mumbai instead denotes a part of the city’s history. For those working on Cinema Road today, including two sports shops, a tailor and a paan shop, the reason for its name seems obvious. “It is named after the Metro Cinema,” say most of them.
According to historian Deepak Rao, street directory records show the name Cinema Road was given to the street in 1940. The area was under military use till 1920-25 when it was opened up for civilian authorities to develop with the military headquarters shifting full-time to Colaba, he says.
“The Metro Cinema came up in 1938. The buildings around it, including the ones on Cinema Road, came up after that in 1939. The road was named after Metro Cinema, which was the first American theatre in Bombay. The earlier theatres were owned by Parsis supported by the British. In fact, on the opening day of Metro Cinema, there were demonstrations against it as per reports filed in prominent newspapers at that time,” Rao says.
Among the establishments on Cinema Road is Madonna Laundry, which has been functioning since 1939. Lalitkumar Damodar Rajput says his grandmother bought the shop from the manager of Metro Cinema. “The shop earlier had a laundry and an ice-cream counter. The manager’s son had gone to study abroad and required money.
He then offered to sell it to my grandmother who was from Surat. We are the third generation working in this shop,” says the 67-year-old.
He says his father had told him that the road was named after Metro Cinema and two other theatres nearby, Edward Cinema and Liberty Cinema. “I remember watching matinee movies in the theatres for 7 paise. The Metro Cinema was unlike any other we had seen before. The roads were wide and the theatre looked even more grand due to its exteriors. It was so sought after, maybe that’s why they thought it fit to name it Cinema Road,” he says referring to its art deco architecture.
The lane next to Cinema Road too remains linked to its history. Called Barracks Road, Rao says it refers to the military barracks which housed the soldiers of the Bombay Native Infantry.
“The area had barracks for its soldiers, which included Europeans and Indians. It also had stables for horses and a lot of open plots, a washing ground, military hospital and a graveyard for Europeans. It also had quarters of officers including the police. It was only after it was opened up for civilian development, did the buildings we see today were constructed,” Rao, a resident of the same area, says.
“The area was also very famous since it was quiet with a lot of space. The prices were high even when my grandmother bought the shop under the pagdi system,” Rajput says. He says that now while giving the address to a person, they have to refer to their shop being behind Metro Cinema instead of just Cinema Road, which is not known as easily.
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