Mumbai, (The Hindu): Eros Cinema may soon start screening films again, as the owners of Cambata Building, which houses the theatre, are in talks with a prominent business family to revive it.
While the cinema hall will be retained, it might be restricted only to the upper floors of the Art Deco building, with the lower floor being opened for commercial use. Instead of a balcony and stall, there will be only one large seating area.
Residents’ associations have already written to the heritage committee not to allow drastic changes to the building, which is part of the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai declared as a World Heritage Site this year.
Built in the 1930s, the iconic cinema house opposite Churchgate station has been lying defunct for about a year now. The building is owned by the S.C. Cambata Trust, with Eros Cinema and all other establishments being its tenants. The cinema house is operated by the Eros Trust, which also consists of members of the Cambata family.
Cambata Building was sealed by the Mumbai City Collector last year, in a case involving unpaid dues of workers of Cambata Aviation Pvt. Ltd. The company has been facing protests for two years, with the latest held as recently as October. The Bombay High Court had later ordered the Collector to unseal the building. However, the theatre has not been screening films since then.
The trust is now planning to revive the cinema hall and is in talks with the Gupta family of Metro Cinema, another iconic cinema house that was revamped into Metro INOX a few years ago. They also approached a few architects and submitted a proposal to the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) earlier this year.
The committee has given its in-principle nod to the venture in its October meeting, insisting on retaining the character of the building. It has also demanded that the final plans are submitted to it as per standard procedure.
According to the preliminary proposal, the ground floor will be converted into commercial space. Apart from the cinema, the ground floor houses shops and restaurants. The building plans will have to be changed, a change of user, with permission from the Building Proposals Department. This would pave the way for any establishment to come up in the space, including cafés and restaurants. The rent could help with the building’s upkeep.
The cinema hall, meanwhile, would move to the upper floor, with an entrance opposite Oval Maidan. It is not known if the proposal suggests a single-screen cinema hall or a multiplex.
Residents advocate care
Concerned citizens have already written to the MHCC conveying their reservations about the proposal. Nayana Kathpaliya, trustee of non-governmental organisation NAGAR and member of the Oval Cooperage Residents Association (OCRA), said, “The building’s exterior has a definite Art Deco element that needs to be preserved. Its interiors have rare elements as well that should not be lost to commercialisation. We want Eros to be revived, for sure. But it should be done with care.”
NAGAR had written to MHCC a few months ago for the preservation and protection of the building’s heritage value, its structure, and the distinctive features of the façade and interiors. It even submitted two books that have references to the building’s architecture. The Nariman Point Churchgate Citizens’ Association (NPCCA) had also written to the MHCC on the matter, and the committee had invited them to give representations in its meeting on October 11.
Acknowledging their concerns, the committee, in a letter dated October 23 to NPCCA and OCRA, said, “MHCC will take into consideration all points mentioned in your representations on merits while considering the proposal.” It refers to the proposal of “… rejuvenation of cinema in part theatre area and partial adaptive reuse of the area”.
Members of the Cambata family did not respond to repeated attempts to contact them. A member of the Gupta family admitted that it is in talks to restore the theatre’s lost glory, but it is too premature to comment.
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