The Hindmata theatre, now named Gold Digital Cinema, has got a digital makeover. However, it has not managed to strike a chord with old-timers.

As a child, the window of his room was Dashrat Mangaonkar’s favourite spot. After all, this corner of the home heralded news of the latest film at the cinema next door. He had only to crane his neck, see the curtains open, rush downstairs, climb a wall and find a vantage point on the roof of the Hindmata theatre. The next three hours were spent in stopping the blades of an exhaust fan with a thin spoke and peering at the screen through the vents.

But Dashrat bhau, now 65, is not gung-ho that Hindmata has reopened in a brand new avatar after three decades. The swanky theatre, now named Gold Digital Cinema, has got a digital makeover. However, it has not managed to strike a chord with old-timers. “Who will pay Rs. 100 to watch silly movies?” he asks, standing at the same window overlooking the cinema in Parel. 

The Gold Cinema owners, however, are hopeful. Rajesh Gupta, executive director of Trikaal Theatre, which re-established the structure in partnership with Gold Digital Cinemas Pvt Ltd said that the middle class was kept in mind. “The tickets are priced from Rs. 80 to Rs. 180. In keeping with tradition, we will show Hindi and Marathi films,” he said.  

Hindmata was part of a troika established in the 1930s, alongside Jai Hind and Bharatmata. Apart from providing entertainment to Marathi labourers, they played hosts to freedom fighters. “Several meetings of the Quit India movement were held there. The names themselves had a nationalistic pinch,” said film scholar Amrit Gangar.

Hindmata’s closure in 1984 came at a time when central Mumbai found itself in a state of metamorphosis. A wave of liberalisation finally swept over 64 mills standing on 600 acres of land from Dadar to Byculla and Worli to Sewri and in one stroke, more than 3 lakh workers were rendered jobless.

Along with mills, went into oblivion cinema halls — the only affordable source of recreation for mill labourers — that dotted the area. Dharti, Broadway, Chitra, Surya were the others to have downed their shutters. “When Hindmata shut down, a part of my life was taken away from me. On cold winter mornings — yes, winters used to be cold in Mumbai — I would go to the manager of the cinema and use his bathroom. He was the only one with a geyser in the vicinity,” said Virsen Mangaonkar (80), who lives in the adjacent lane. Mr Mangaonkar lost his job at a mill.

Many fondly remember a bespectacled Mr. Sarmalkar making changes to the board outside the gate. “Every Friday, he would change the name of the film. We would eagerly await his arrival more than the film’s,” said Vitthal Ghag (63) who grew up in a chawl opposite Hindmata. 

After the cinema’s closure, the entire neighbourhood became a textile business hub. The area became better known as Hindmata market. “Before that, there were almond trees right outside. When we couldn’t afford anything in our tiffin boxes, we would pluck almonds for school. In the compound of the cinema were mango and jamun trees. All the trees are now gone. But that’s not a surprise. Who would care for trees if they didn’t think twice before destroying the mills?” said Mr. Mangaonkar who was born around the same time as Hindmata.

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