Kolkata, India's cultural capital, is a city teeming with history and heritage, where the echoes of its colonial past resonate through the streets. One such iconic landmark, Metro Cinema, has stood the test of time, witnessing the ebb and flow of Kolkata's cinematic journey. Once one of India’s oldest and most thriving single-screen theatres, the cinema hall also witnessed its share of dark days before undergoing extensive renovations in 2021, while preserving its old-world charm and Art Deco architecture. At present, it exists as a multiplex with 422 seats with its doors now once again open to the public to satiate their cinematic pleasure. The history behind this iconic heritage building is thoroughly intriguing.
In 1935, Calcutta witnessed the grand inauguration of Metro Cinema by the renowned American film production company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). I’m sure all of you recall the iconic lion roar before the beginning of any MGM production. Built to cater to the city's elite, which included Britishers, Jews, and Armenians during the British Raj, the theater became an instant favorite among the cine-lovers of Calcutta. Designed by the eminent theater architect Thomas W. Lamb, the grandeur of the cinema hall was awe-inspiring, boasting Art Deco elements that set it apart from its contemporaries.
Metro Cinema's colonial legacy is etched into its very essence. Serving as a platform to promote Hollywood films to the British and English-speaking populace, it embodied the epitome of elegance during colonial rule. Western movies found a special place among Calcutta's urban elite, transforming the theater into a cultural epicenter. The city's 'Entertainment Capital,' the bustling Esplanade area, also boasted several other up-and-coming movie theaters, with Metro Cinema reigning supreme.
However, post-independence, there was a migration of Western audiences back to Europe and this resulted in a waning popularity of English movies. Bollywood and Tollywood movies gained popularity with momentum and even though they were showcased in Metro Cinema, it did not bring out the same zeitgeist of the pre-independence era that the theatre was accustomed to. Soon, Metro Cinema began to face its own set of challenges — a lack of effort in modernization and maintenance of the building led to its closure in 2011. The late 2000s also ushered in a new era with multiplexes altering the city's cinematic landscape and Metro Cinema could just not financially compete with that. However, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation's heritage commission recognized its historical significance and sought to preserve this architectural gem.
In 2015, a ray of hope emerged as a Mumbai-based firm acquired the property, infusing new life into the storied structure. The renovation aimed to strike a delicate balance between honoring the past and embracing the future. As the curtain rose on the reborn Metro Cinema in 2021, it now stands as a multi-faceted entertainment hub, adorned with its original Art Deco exterior which includes waterfall-style columns and the grand staircase, an ode to its heritage.While embracing modernity with a state-of-the-art six-story multiplex, the new architectural setup of Metro Cinema has ensured that its soul remains intact. The new facility houses retail spaces, a vibrant food court, and a cinephile's paradise. The redesigned cinema hall accommodates the latest technological advancements, providing an immersive cinematic experience to movie enthusiasts.
Metro Cinema's reopening marked the revival of an icon that transcends time, catering to Kolkata's diverse and discerning audience. With its heritage structure lovingly preserved, it proudly represents the city's rich cultural tapestry. The cinema hall's significance extends beyond entertainment; it symbolizes the resilience of a city that cherishes its past while embracing progress. Metro Cinema continues to grace the silver screen, enchanting audiences young and old alike. The theater's colonial legacy, Art Deco architecture, and modern-day relevance blend harmoniously, making it a timeless beacon in a dynamic city.