How Deepak Talkies became Mumbai’s go-to place for world cinema lovers.
Deepak Talkies was established in 1926, 21 years before independence. It was called Saraswati Cinema. The ownership has been ancestral and now lies with the third generation.
Like every old theatre in Mumbai, Deepak Talkies was fast losing relevance in the film circuit due to multiplexes popping up all over town. While Maratha Mandir took the fight to the ‘BIG’ cinemas, with her one-trick-DDLJ-pony, Deepak Talkies didn’t settle for a PR gimmick. Something had to be done. Something classy (classic?).
We speak to Punit Shah, the man behind the revamp for Deepak Talkies.
Deepak Talkies was all set for an unceremonious death due to old age. What happened? How did you bring the old girl back to life?
In June 2013, we thought of shutting down the space owing to its dilapidated state. We weren’t comfortable running it as a Non AC, run down theatre anymore.
Aesthetically and architecturally we kept it the same, we wanted to maintain its natural essence. Most of the money was spent on the Auditorium and other cosmetic changes.
What’s the Matterden?
In Feb ’14 we stuck with Deepak until we came across Enlighten Film Society. They were playing world cinema classics at Russian Centre, Max Mueller Bhavan among others. I proposed our space to them, to turn it into an international film centre. We coined the name, “Matterden CFC” together.
What does it mean?
‘Matter’ is self explanatory and ‘Den’ means Dark Energy. CFC stands for Centre for Creation.
How is this a centre for creation?
We allow everyone into the film world. They can come use the space. We have screenings, discussions, talk, workshops and the works. Everything to do with Film. We have been screening film right from the dawn of the 1900s. When Deepak began they screened an American silent film ‘The General’ by Buster Keaton in 1926. We screened it again. It was a special feeling.
What’s the response like?
We have been screening one international film a day at a comfortable time. Our ticket prices are more than reasonable. The response has been fantastic from the start.
Which film has had the best response yet?
The 1953 classic ‘Roman Holiday’ starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
It was almost sold out; it felt like a coming of age for Matterden.
‘Bicycle Thieves’ also did really well.
Even when we screen Chaplin’s films for a month, the response was quite good. We wanted younger people to watch these mammoths of world cinema, so we introduced a 14 years and below free policy for the duration.
How are your ticket prices so low? It’s because people are cheap, and even more so with old cinema, right?
The sad truth is that people will not splurge on classics. Now people can just download these movies. The challenge is to get people out of their domain and come here to watch them. Watching a classic in a vintage place like this just adds to the experience.
What’s your endgame? What do you want to achieve with Matterden?
We try to play films from different genres and eras of cinema. This gets us more people and bigger audience pool. Showing people these films on a big screen and giving everyone a chance to get a taste of the greats is something we strive to do.
Going forward, we want to explore the present Indie Film scene. Even good regional films. Everything is curated carefully.
Recently, you hosted the French film festival, wherein you showed a French movie every Tuesday, for free. Are there any such future festivals we should know about?
We have tied up with four consulates; French, German, Italian and Iranian. We are designating the weeknight slots for these films. We do not want people to spend on them.
Matterden is now every film buff’s haven in Mumbai, there is no such place. How does that make you feel? What next?
It feels great. For us, it is one step at a time. It seems like a brighter future for us.
Hopefully a live international opera and a virtual reality gaming competitions with a live audience.
What are you doing this weekend? Taking in a few SRK-catchphrases at your local, multiplex screening of Dilwale? Or watching a classic that SRK might have borrowed from himself?
By Karan Khosla
Photographs by: Karan Khosla