Dinner And A Movie


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There’s a screen set up along the north wall and the projector rests on a table in the middle of the room. It’s not a very large room, so the staff at The Pantry is busy re-arranging the furniture to accommodate as many people as comfortably as possible. There are tables, chairs and benches lined up to face the screen almost as if it were a classroom.

I arrived early, so I’m perched snugly on a window seat at the other end of the café where the tables and chairs aren’t re-arranged. It’s a Friday evening and I’m at The Pantry for Shorts Night – at 8 p.m. the lights will dim, the waiters will temporarily suspend service, and the screen will light up with a selection of short films curated especially for The Pantry and its patrons.

“[Short films night] is a nice thing to do. It’s different.” It’s a comment from one of the other early birds at the table. “Is there anything to do that doesn’t involve alcohol?” asks another. It’s an apt question. Nights out in Mumbai often involve plans to catch up over drinks. And while I have great fondness for beer, it’s nice to be doing something else for a change. The healthy menu at The Pantry is devoid of alcohol, and the films they show aren’t the kind you can drop in to theatres to watch.

It’s unplanned, but my first visit to shorts night coincides with its one-year anniversary. By 8 p.m. the café is packed, and by 8:15 it’s standing room only. The Pantry’s co-owner Pankil Shah kicks off the show with a few words, telling us that tonight’s selection of films is composed of the best films they’ve shown in the past year.

Nights out in Mumbai often involve plans to catch up over drinks. And while I have great fondness for beer, it’s nice to be doing something else for a change.

It’s an international night with short films from Australia, South Korea, USA and India. There are live action and animation films ranging from five minutes to 15 minutes long. I must say I’m not particularly enamoured by short films. I’m not satisfied that the story is over so quickly. Like with a good book, I like my films to draw me in so I’m invested in them. Preconceived notions notwithstanding, I’m curious about what the night has in store.

The first film of the night is Jump, an Australian production about 13-year-old Edwin Albatross who lives with his family of (literal) circus clowns. Edwin has other ambitions and wants to be a trapeze artiste in the circus. The other trapeze artistes constantly mock him, and his father says things like, “Clown is in your blood.” Young Edwin, however, is determined against all odds to nail the auditions. In just 15 minutes I find myself desperately rooting for Edwin to succeed. And thinking that maybe there is something to this short films thing after all.

When the hour is over I’m pleasantly surprised that perhaps the best film (and certainly the one that got the loudest applause) is the shortest one. Johnny Express, a five-minute animated short from South Korea, has no dialogue (meaning no sub-titles) so it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy the exploits of a lazy deliveryman as he attempts intergalactic package delivery.

I made the mistake of not ordering dinner before the screening began (or during the short interval), and I’m now ravenous. The café is bustling again as the waiters hurry to get orders out to the other hungry patrons who have lingered for dinner. Our table is crowded with friends and friends of friends, all of whom are here specifically for short films night. It’s a wonderful way to meet new people and have new conversations over dinner and a movie (or several).

The Pantry Shorts Nights take place on the last Friday of every month at 8 p.m. Entry is free.

The Pantry, Yeshwant Chambers, Ground Floor, Military Square Lane, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2267 8901


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Call Me Deepak


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Is it just an abandoned bungalow? No, it’s the Mayor’s house. Or maybe it’s an ancestral property inhabited by a stubborn old man who refuses to give in to the demands of real estate players.

Every time I walked to High Street Phoenix in the neighbourhood I couldn’t help but wonder why nobody reformed a certain old and tattered bungalow on the way. While nearly every piece of property around it had metamorphosed, or was metamorphosing, into contemporary glass buildings, this one-acre plot with an open courtyard and two white elephants still stood there calling itself Deepak Cinemas.

Half-torn posters of Telegu, Marathi and sometimes failed Hindi movies were slapped on the low, sky-blue compound walls. And a short man in uniform atop a wooden stool guarded the dilapidated metal gate. The long queues of labourers and paan-chewing taxi drivers outside was justified when I saw the chalkboard by the little ticket window that read Rs. 20, 30, 40. I could picture the scene inside. Wooden chairs with almost negligible cushioning, high ceiling fans hanging from the sloping roofs and a wide screen really far away may have livened up the cinematic experience for all the men in the queue.

Although the movie prices were tempting, it was a theatre I could never visit, I would say to myself. Why couldn’t they simply rip this down and build a fancy multiplex with recliner seats and butter-popcorn vending machines? When old mills could become fancy malls and plush offices, why not this?

There were no daunting security women to frisk me, no aroma of pizzas, nachos and brownies in the air and no pesky red lights prying from the ceiling.

Tokershi Jivraj Shah, a Kutchi landlord who owned acres of land in the Lower Parel-Elphinstone area, started Deepak Talkies as a venue for circus shows and musicals until the arrival of the talkies in 1931. In its heyday it hosted many star-studded premieres and attracted the neighbouring mill workers every evening, the man at the ticket counter told me.

But come the new millennium and many single screen cinema houses failed to keep up with the multiplex boom. The fortunes of the only theatre in Elphinstone dwindled in the past two decades, and it started showing mass movies in Bhojpuri, Telugu and Marathi to stay afloat. What it really needed was a fresh lease of life. It needed to get rid of the peeled-off walls and bug infested seats. It needed to entice a sophisticated crowd that loved the experience of watching a good film.

And February last year marked the rebirth of this 89-year-old theatre. Complete with new seats, air conditioning and state-of-the-art technology, Deepak Cinemas was renamed Deepak – Matterden CFC. What I loved about it when I saw it reborn is what I exactly hated all those years ago. The sloping, tiled roof, the open courtyard before the theatre, the small ticket window outside, the cagey gate and film posters slapped on the wall outside – only this time they were placed in special glass cases pinned on the walls – and the newly painted white elephants.

I knew, at the gate itself, this was going to be a one-of-a kind movie experience. There were no daunting security women to frisk me, no aroma of pizzas, nachos and brownies in the air and no pesky red lights prying from the ceiling. The way to the screen was simple, earthy and nostalgic of my village home. It was a place I could sit for hours discussing Rush, The Bicycle Thief or Good Will Hunting with a fellow film buff. The careful restoration of the heritage decor and the small canteen that served piping hot chai nearly distracted my ulterior motive.

A small stairway on the side led me to the balcony (executive) section from where the 70mm screen looked even more glorious. The red cushion seats may be the same, but the cinematic experience of watching a movie in a not-so-multiplex movie hall was certainly atypical.

Just when I thought single screen cinemas had no future, the refurbished Deepak opened its doors for the Matterden Centre for Films and Creations and changed the game forever. Deepak aims to be for cinema what Prithvi is for theatre. With a vintage cinematic feel and ample ground for filmy discussions and workshops, this is where all the cinema lovers and makers will want to be.

Matterden CFC, 38 N.M. Joshi Marg, Lower Parel (w), Mumbai 400 013. Phone: 022 4015 021


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