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LEGEND OF THE LOST – Chaplin Cinema Hall

Chaplin Cinema Hall

Jamshedji Framji Madan (1856–1923) may be termed as the father of film production in India. Born in a Persi family in Bombay, he joined the Elphinstone Dramatic Club in 1868, as a helper boy at a very early age. At the inception, Elphinstone was an amateur club, but later it became a professional theatre company, touring around and staging shows all over India. Jamshedji moved to Calcutta in 1883 and his success in his business of supplying goods to army to earn enough money. Jamshedji had a vision. So he utilized his money to buy the Corinthian Hall, a famous theatre hall in those days. In 1902, he started Bioscope shows in a tent in the Maidan of Calcutta, along with similar shows in Corinthian Theatre. Within a short span of five years he also took over the charge of the Elphinstone Theatre Company and  opened the “Elphinstone Picture Palace” in 1907.

Elphinstone Picture Palace
Elphinstone Picture Palace

It was situated on Hogg Street, opposite the towering red-bricked Calcutta Municipal Corporation building. The vision of  Jamshedji started to materialize with the opening of the Elphinstone Picture Palace. It was the first of his chain of cinemas in British India and also the first permanent movie theatre in this city of Calcutta. The Palace later was renamed “Minerva” and it emerged as the centre for Hollywood films for a fast emerging young generation of audience. It was a small but neat and cozy cinema hall where good Hollywood films were screened.

Jamshedji Framji Madan
Jamshedji Framji Madan
Poster of Elphistone Bioscope
Poster of Elphistone Bioscope

It will be not out place to mention here that during this period Jamshedji also opened “Madan Theatre”. With steadily and rapidly growing business, Madan Theatre became a joint stock company in 1919  and named Madan Theatre Limited. The Company made a history in the Show business, when it produced the first Bengali film “Bilwamangal” in the same year. The Company reached its peak during the late 1920s, when it owned many theatres in Calcutta, including Palace of Varieties (Elite), The Electric Theatre (Regal), Grand Opera House (Globe) and Crown Cinema (Uttara).

But the scenario of the golden era of Minerva changed with time. It changed with changing audience tastes and complete lack of maintenance of the hall due to suffering continuous losses in the business. In fact, in those days the booking counters suffered terrible losses, due to the prevailing unrest political situation at Calcutta during 1970s. To avoid violent actions in public places by a group of people and the harassment by the policemen, people preferred to get back home earlier, rather than opting for a cinema show.  Finally the local authority took over the hall, renovated and renamed it as “Chaplin”. It seems rather ridiculous that, Kolkata Municipal Corporation does not seem to have any paper or record whatsoever, regarding the takeover of the hall and the subsequent change of its name.

However, the renovation of the hall and the change of its name could neither change the ultimate fate of the hall nor the writings on the wall. In fact, the hall was continuously running up losses at the booking office. At this stage, instead of trying to find out a reasonable solution of the problem, the authority took the drastic action of erasing the source of the problem itself and the elegant historical building was completely demolished cruelly and  unceremoniously by the authorities in 2003. It is assumed that, the Corporation was compelled to take the unpleasant and drastic decision of razing the oldest and the illustrious theater in the country,  to ease the financial pressure on the Corporation on its account. It is known that in 2008, the then local government had an ambitious plan to build a prestigious seven-storied building on the plot in collaboration with a private firm. To ensure the participation of the particular firm to invest in the project, the authorities had to play a very important and  persuasive role in closing down three attached shops and leave a dozen workers unemployed. However, the project was ultimately shelved, since the said company repudiated their commitment and in the process, we have lost one of our heritage buildings for ever.

Chaplin - one off the oldest movie theatre in India
Chaplin – one off the oldest movie theatre in India
Beginning of the end of Chaplin Cinema Hall
Beginning of the end of Chaplin
End of a legend, Chaplin Cinema Hall
End of a legend, Chaplin
Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

2 thoughts on “LEGEND OF THE LOST – Chaplin Cinema Hall

  1. I remember seeing a number of good films both in Minerva as well as later in Chaplin. In the good old days we used to visit Minerva and see the family films that used to be screened there. My father would prefer the hall because it was so easy to park the car just next to the hall and once we had finished seeing the night show we would all love the Nizam’s rolls and finish our dinner there itself much to the relief of my mother. I have seen one of the best films and most probably one of my favourites in this hall. It was about the last days of the Tsars. I now forget the name but it could be “Nicholas and Alexandria.”

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