“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret,
Their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Bombay, at times, seems like a mythical archipelago reclaimed to form one make-believe island, where dreams & destinies collide every moment for more than a billion people. Within Bombay resides many Bombays, Mumbais, Bambais… Many guts, intestines, ribs, innards spill over onto each other to form the larger demon, whom we all love to hate. In one such corner resides a dream called “cinema”, a beautiful illusion, a reason of hope in a hopeless city. While some realize the dream and become part of the celluloid folklore, some are discarded, some lie on the periphery, some fade away into oblivion, some make way for bigger dreams.
Such is the story of the single screen cinemas that dot the Falkland Road area of Bombay. It’s here the original ‘Play House’ was set, to entertain the war fatigued British troops, it’s around these lanes the early ‘theatres’ came about with the stage and spectacle, horses and elephants, lavnis and tamashas till the talkies descended upon with the glamour of sound. The Jew, Chinese, French & European consorts made way to the Nautch girls and the night song travelled from Bellasis Road towards the Keneddy Bridge. Along these bylanes, Manto encountered Sugandhi, Mammad Bhai and many other memorable characters, who brought alive his Bombay stories. Around the corner one gets familiar with the reek that rose from Namdeo Dhasal’s raw, raging & carnal words that bled through his poetry. The space and its surroundings throb and ejaculate a strange kind of beauty, giving birth to chaos, unsettled like the tides of the Arabian Sea, strong like the stench of the endearing Bombay duck, heady like the perfume of attar, alluring like that garishly dressed whore across the street.
The landscape of the once glorious “entertainment district” of Bombay, now lies withered, undesired, diseased, dilapidated & discarded… Yet like cinema, there’s hope clinging on to the fringes of fantasy, amidst the rubble, 20 Rupees Balcony tickets get sold for a Bhojpuri release on a Sunday afternoon – proudly boasting a “HOUSEFULL” board outside Nishat. It’s within these dark, sweaty halls, they all come together… The hand cart puller, the taxiwallah, the auto rickshaw driver, the drifter, the leper, the prostitute, the “customer”… all fortune seekers, dreamers, hopeful of surviving the day and making it big in the island city.
Royal, Alfred, New Roshan, Gulshan, Silver, Moti, New Imperial and Nishat stand awkwardly amidst a scape that’s changing rapidly. With shiny new high rise buildings towering heavenwards, the few remaining single screens are losing a hopeless battle on a slowly shifting, slithering ground that has consumed many. It’s just a matter of time that they will make way to the ambitious real –estate plans of this metropolis that’s rising like a mighty monster.
From the pages of Mary Ellen Mark’s book on the infamous “cages” to low lives that inhabit Manto’s sketches… Falkland Road today is a crowded pathway through the Chinese dentist, the VD doctor promising to cure you off sexual illness of ANY kind, the dyers & cleaners, the roadside tattoo artist, the dingy video parlours, the little shops where one could download “scenes” & songs from the recent Bhojpuri or Salman blockbuster, the iron rod manufacturers and the many migrants who queue up to their 3 hour of escape into the world of song & dance and for them it doesn’t matter if it’s Soldier,Sharktopus or Silk Smitha… It doesn’t matter if it could be the Last Day, Last Show!
Nitesh Mohanty, an alumnus of National Institute of Design, is an artist and the co-founder of The Root, which is a platform to propagate social, cultural, political and environmental issues through a range of creative mediums.