Fenil and Bollywood

Bharatmata ko bachao!

Posted on: January 14, 2010

Actors and politicians and the janata join in to save the city’s iconic theatre for Marathi cinema

By Aneesh Phadnis and Nilanjana Nag (MUMBAI MIRROR; January 13, 2010)

// // // Are moviegoers gradually losing a chance to watch Marathi cinema at affordable rates? There are hardly any cinema halls left in the city that cater to patrons across classes. One such theatre, Lalbaug’s 70-year-old Bharatmata cinema, is in danger with city civil court dismissing its eviction case against the National Textile Corporation.

Since last week, Kapil Bhopatkar, managing partner of Bharatmata Cinema in Parel, has been knocking the doors of politicians to help him save the cinema hall. While some politicians, actors, and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) activists have promised support, he plans to meet the CM too to plead his case.

Chavan promised that the government will purchase the land from the National Textile Corporation but a dissatisfied Bhopatkar says, “Chavan just made a general statement on being questioned by media persons. There is zero clarity on the plan of action.”

For Bhopatkar, whose grandfather took over the theatre in 1940, in a plot sub-leased from United Mills Private Ltd, Bharatmata has emotional significance. “There have been bad times when we had to dig into our pockets to pay staff salaries.”

Of late with the flourish of Marathi movies, things have improved for the cinema hall.  Bhopatkar says, “The average occupancy at our cinema is 65 percent which is higher than most multiplexes today. We are making at least 20 percent profit.”

Bharatmata sees an occupancy of atleast 65 per cent even today, which is higher than most city multiplexes

Hence he has little reason to complain as the theatre attracts plenty of viewers and patrons. Such as Suresh Jadhav, a filmgoer and Bharatmata fan who comes to watch movies all the way from Andheri.  Is it only love for Marathi cinema that draws him? He agrees.

Lakshman Shinde, who has come for the afternoon show along with his niece, says, “Though my house is in Sion I don’t go to Plaza Theatre because the afternoon slot these days is reserved for Hindi films. Bharatmata has at least one show dedicated to Marathi cinema, most of which are suitable for family viewing.”

Kapil Bhopatkar, managing partner of Bharatmata Cinema

But does a youngster prefer watching a Marathi film at Bharatmata to watching one in a swank multiplex? “Yes,” says 18-year-old Abhay Chauhan, a student of Wilson College. “I’ve been coming here since I was a child. Earlier, the fare was Rs 15 and now a stall ticket is priced at Rs 25. Where else can your entire family watch a film within a hundred rupees?”

Filmmaker Mahesh Kothare owes the success of many of his films to what he calls “the sheer atmosphere” of Bharatmata. “This theatre becomes home to its visitors despite the lack of air conditioners,” he says. “For my film Khabardar, Chitra, a theatre nearby had 80 per cent occupancy whereas Bharatmata continued to run houseful for weeks. But today, if the custody of this place goes to anyone else, I hope the Bhopatkars remain its caretakers.”

Actor Shreyas Talpade too is another patron who has fond memories of his family visiting theatres like Bharatmata, Plaza and Shaan to watch films of stalwarts like Sachin Pilgaonkar and Mahesh Kothare. “People would mouth dialogues, clap, whistle and laughter was unadulterated and wholehearted,” he says.

Agrees actor-director Mahesh Manjrekar who also gives due credit to Ashok Chavan, “for doing all in his capacity to save the theatre.”

But will it be enough?

Suresh Jadhav Lakshman Shinde Abhay Chauhan

What NTC says

Bharatmata Cinema covers 1800 square metre and is part of the India United Textile Mills. The National Textile Corporation which owned the mill entered into a joint venture with Bhaskar group three years ago to develop “textile related activities.’’ NTC is 51 per cent share holder of the new JV company and has five representatives on the board of the JV company.

NTC officials in Mumbai refused to come on record. “Whatever proposal comes from Maharashtra government we will forward it to higher ups,’’ an official said.

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