Eros 2.0: Charting The Rise, Fall, & Resurrection Of A Heritage Mumbai Cinema

Eros 2.0 is all set to make its grand opening on the 9th of this month.
Eros 2.0 is all set to make its grand opening on the 9th of this month.

Eros Theatre, located in the Cambata building at Churchgate, has been a bastion for the city’s cine lovers since its inception in 1938. It was designed by renowned architect Shorabji Bhedwar sporting a unique amalgamation of Art Deco and Victorian Gothic architecture. Much like Mumbai’s heritage theatres Regal and Metro, Eros was built on land reclaimed from the sea in the early 1900s, also known as the Back Bay plot, which had led to the creation of many new precincts in Bombay, including Marine Drive.

"Eros was built by Shiavax Cambatta, a cosmopolitan, well-traveled Parsi, who was inspired by the statue of Eros he saw in Piccadilly in London. He decided to build a picture palace that would be the 'pride of not only Bombay but also of the entire East'."

The Bombay Chronicle, 1938

An illustration depicting Eros Cinema during its initial years
An illustration depicting Eros Cinema during its initial yearsArt Deco Mumbai Trust Archives

Eros Theatre’s façade, reminiscent of a majestic ocean liner, commanded attention. Partially constructed using red Agra sandstone, the building was adorned in a cream color. The two sections of ist structured converged in a central block. The entrance hall featured a combination of white and black marble accentuated with gold. Staircases made of marble with chromium handrails lead to the upper level. The murals, depicting Indian architecture, were painted in subtle hues. The auditorium was embellished with cloud patterns on the walls, while the lower half was carved in black marble. The Proscenium arch was adorned with a large relief sculpture, and the stage was flanked by a pair of large columns with gold stripes. Although the original design included organ chambers, the installation of a pipe organ was not been confirmed.

The theatre's garden exterior hinted at the opulence that awaited within. Once you stepped through its ornate doors, you were transported into a realm where refined luxury intertwined with the world of moving images. Inside, there was air-conditioning, 1,300 plush seats awaiting eager patrons, and intricate friezes adorning the walls, whispering tales of bygone eras. The guests could enjoy fine dining as the dulcet tones of an English band danced through the air. While all the heritage South Bombay theatres primarily showcased Hollywood films, Warner Bros films were Eros Theatre’s jams.

As Bombay grew towards the north, a series of Art Deco movie theaters appeared, attracting audiences with the enchantment of the silver screen. Much to the delight of the Indian producers, significant achievements such as 100 days, Silver Jubilee (25 weeks), Golden Jubilee (50 weeks), and even Platinum (75 weeks) were commemorated for mega-hit movies like Mughal e Azam, Sangam, Pakeezah, and Sholay. This marked the peak era of single-screen cinema halls in India.

'Mughal e Azam' (colour) being screened at Eros Cinema
'Mughal e Azam' (colour) being screened at Eros CinemaNrupen Madhvani

However, from the early 2000s onwards, the rise of multiplexes signaled a shift in the industry. Government policies favored multiplexes with tax incentives, leading to a decline in single-screen cinemas nationwide. Big cinemas struggled with meager profits per ticket and many closed, replaced by shopping arcades below and small-screen theaters above. The loss of these picture palaces, once havens of emotion and entertainment, symbolized a transformation in the city's cultural landscape, leaving behind memories of shared joys and sorrows in the cool darkness of grand halls.

Eros 2.0 is all set to make its grand opening on the 9th of this month.
Reminiscing Bengaluru’s Bygone Era Of Single-Screen Cinema Halls

The Eros Cinema theatre became non-operational in 2016 — its grand legacy falling victim to the vagaries of time with cine lovers meeting its closed doors when they passed Churchgate. However, last year, when swathes of green construction cloth enveloped the heritage building, it led to a huge hue and cry by Mumbaikars, collectively expressing their sorrow at the loss of the cine treasure trove and also expressing discontent and conjecturing at the fact that it would probably be replaced with some foreign clothing outlet, giant shopping complexes or yet another soulless glass skyscraper. The rumors of Ero Cinema’s demise spread quickly as netizens took to social media with dramatic statements like “it is the death of heritage” or proclaiming “that they’ll never watch movies again”.

Green construction curtains covering the entire building of Eros Cinema
Green construction curtains covering the entire building of Eros CinemaThe Wire

But like most rumors, thankfully, this one also turned out to be false. Mumbai’s Eros Cinema was not being demolished but rather, it was being renovated keeping its heritage design and planning intact. The Cambatta Family had sold off the property to Atul Gupta, managing partner of Metro Realty. He then approached architect Hafeez Contractor and his team for the restoration and renovation of the heritage cinema hall.

"Working on the project was like walking down memory lane. There was a story that unfolded at the turn of every corner or through the corridors within all the design details. Eros has stood as a majestic marvel for years, and we had to be guardians of the place first before thinking about redesigning it. But it was time for Eros 2.0."

Nishant Gupta, the lead for the project from Contractor’s team

Each floor required extensive renovation to strengthen its structural integrity, update facilities for modern needs and safety standards, and meticulously restore all historical features. The restoration initiative commenced with the bas-relief murals adorning the cinema's walls. All new designs, alterations, or preservation efforts underwent thorough review by the heritage board, ensuring a collaborative approach to conservation. Now, instead of one large 1,300-seater theatre, the restored space houses shops and eateries in the lobby and the first floor, and a 300-seater IMAX cinema above. Eros 2.0 is all set to make its grand opening on the 9th of this month.

Cinema is a perceptive mirror of the times we live in thereby making theatre houses custodians of such societal mirrors. Take a look at the photo carousel below to take a sneak peek at Eros 2.0.

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