The attraction is two-fold. One, it fits with my own recent forays into Bombay neighbourhoods that I do not ordinarily frequent. Two, it takes me to one of this city's older (-est?) cinema theatres. They're a vanishing breed, these single-screen affairs, with a character all their own.
So when I get the chance to see a film in the area known as Playhouse, I jump at it.
Talk about multiplexes -- true, everyone appreciates the choice of films they give you, all under one roof. But apart from the roof, it's close to being the same in this area. The choice, I mean. Within a 150 metre radius from the Falkland Rd/Grant Rd junction, there are at least 9 theatres. Novelty, Super, Nishat, Alfred, Gulshan, New Royal, Roshan and some more whose names escape me.
So my first task in Playhouse was to decide which theatre to visit.
Two things had some bearing on the decision: I've always wanted to see a Bhojpuri film, and I've long wanted to see a film at Alfred on Falkland Road. The latter, because I have an soft corner for theatres that still use those rosy-cheeked lurid hand-painted posters, and Alfred is one of those.
So Super was showing "Pyaar ke Bandhan" in Bhojpuri. That was a possibility. But in the end, I chose Alfred. (Super, next time).
Not that the film at Alfred was much of an attraction: Himmat from 1996, starring Sunny Deol, Tabu, Naseeruddin Shah and Shilpa Shetty. "Superstar kalakar ka jhamela dekhiye!" ("See the drama of the superstars!") says a hand-lettered poster in the theatre, not much of an attraction either. We enter a good 30-45 minutes late, leave after an hour. But as always with such films, it hardly matters when you enter or leave. You still get the same cocktail of deafening music, execrable songs, meaningless plot sequences and horrifying acting. Naseeruddin Shah probably shudders -- well, I hope he does -- when he remembers his performance in this one. Tabu is tall, dressed gaudily and does little of any note. Shilpa Shetty is all cleavage and simper, which grows old fast. (Yes, I said that). Sunny Deol, the man should pick any vocation but acting. Enough said.
But of course, my feeling is that people come to see a film like Himmat only for the pretty faces and the melodrama. Who cares about acting ability? And so this is the usual delightful Bollywood film experience. I have myself an absolute all-round blast.
Alfred is old all right, but it's not as if Alfred is gorgeous heritage-value art-deco. It does have a cavernous hall, long poles from the ceiling that whirring fans hang from, an obvious stage in front on which the curved screen is mounted, and a steeply-sloped balcony. Given where we are in this city, the general seediness here, I naively expected dirt and a noisy audience. But even with the hall packed as it is, it is surprisingly quiet. No cellphones go off, nobody has to be asked to hush. Several women are watching the film, some with kids, some clearly on their own. My companion tells me that this is one of the few theatres in the city where women feel comfortable enough to come alone. Oh yes, no rats, and it is about as clean as any other theatre I've been to.
And outside the hall, plenty of open space, long silent gleaming corridors (remember we walked out while the movie is still on) where you hear every footfall, big windows to let in the evening air and sounds. Those windows! Through them drift the sounds and sights of this heart and soul of the city: traffic, horns, brisk walkers, lights, signs, cafes. Opposite is "Pestonji Building, 1928" -- home to the temptingly lit and crowded Nekzad Restaurant. And there are posters plastered in every direction for the new film Mobile Phone ("This film is inspired by famous MMS scandal of New Delhi"). All I can say about that is that the cleavage on display on those posters comfortably shades Shilpa Shetty in Himmat.
It's been a delicious 90 minutes or so. When done, I stand at that bustling junction for a long time, looking around. Firdos Guest House is across the road, promising "homely comfort". Cafe Heaven is over there too. I look over at Nekzad ("Just tonight, I stood before the tavern/Nothing seemed the way it used to be"), wondering if I have the time to go have a coffee.
Have to return soon to see another film at one of the other little theatres here. That Bhojpuri one first, but I want to come back after it. And again.