In the 1960s and 1970s, Pune was a lovely place to live in. Pune is known as The Queen of the Deccan and was truly a beautiful city with a salubrious climate and a laid-back relaxed lifestyle and that is why it was considered a “Pensioners’ Paradise”.
Pune was the birthplace of the Indian Film Industry at Prabhat Studio (where The Film and Television Institute or FTII are located now) and it is probably due to Pune’s Cinematic Heritage that The National Film Archives of India or NFAI is also located here). Maybe that is why Pune had a large number of cinema theatres to cater to the finer appetites of Punekars who loved theatre and cinema and the fine arts.
They say that at one time, in India, only Mumbai had more cinema theatres than Pune. Cinema Theatres added the word “Talkies” after their names and most of these “single-screen” movie halls (as they are derisively called now) have disappeared or are in quite a dilapidated condition, struggling to make ends meet and some are on the verge of shutting down.
Now, with the proliferation of multiplexes, Pune is like any other faceless metropolis and probably, most of today’s young and restless avid moviegoers, who throng the multiplexes for a movie and a good time, hardly know anything about the cinematic heritage of Pune. By the way, I too love the multiplex experience but I also cherish nostalgic memories of those “good old days”. So, let me walk you down the memory lane and tell you about it.
The first film I probably saw was The Guns of Navarone (1961) and I think I saw it at Alaka, which exhibited English Movies. West End in Pune Camp, famous for its Soda Fountain and reclining chairs in the balcony, also exclusively showed English movies and so did the nearby New Empire and Hindvijay at Deccan Gymkhana. It was in these theatres that most of us saw a lot of those ageless action-packed Westerns like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), Mackenna’s Gold (1969) and numerous John Wayne movies, of which Hatari (1962) is my all time favourite and, of course, classics like My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965).
Later, Alaka would screen the inimitable Dada Kondke blockbusters, which celebrated golden jubilees and Hindvijay would have a 70 MM screen showing the latest Hollywood blockbusters. But, I remember seeing Pakeezah (1972) there too. Opposite the Bus Depot, next to Poona Coffee House, where KFC is now, was DECCAN where I saw many films, including Jewel Thief (1967) wearing a “jewel thief cap”, which was a rage then.
Another film I clearly remember seeing was Dosti (1964) at Minerva near Mandai. I was in the 4th standard and there was a special show for our school, then I saw it again with my grandmother. Dosti ran for 25 weeks in Pune (maybe a Golden jubilee of 50 weeks in Mumbai) and the silver jubilee was celebrated with a band playing the film’s popular songs outside Minerva Theatre.
Near Minerva was Aryan. Aryan was the oldest cinema in Pune (maybe in India too) and I remember seeing morning shows of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy comedies, though Aryan exhibited Marathi films in its regular shows. Also near Mandai towards Budhwar Peth was Globe (later renovated, air-conditioned and renamed Shreenath) and further down was Vijayanand, which showed English movies at the 1 o’clock afternoon matinee show and Marathi films in regular shows.
Most of the cinemas were located either on (or slightly off) Laxmi Road. If you walked down from Alaka Chowk towards camp, you first had Vijay on your left, then Bhanuvilas in the next lane to your left. Some more distance ahead if you turned towards Appa Balwant Chowk side you had Prabhat, Paramount (Ratan) and Vasant. I remember seeing many great Marathi films like Paathlag, Jaga Chya Pathivar and Amhi Jato Amucha Gavi in the 1060s with my grandparents in these cinemas.
Though Prabhat used to screen Marathi films, I remember seeing Aradhana (1969), since I had to run all the way to our place on Tilak Road to get my granny’s specs, which she had forgotten (Yes, as a young boy I was physically fit. And, by the way, we cycled all over Pune, including for movies and all the cinema theatres had robust cycle stands where we would park our cycles safely).
Ahead, opposite City Post Office, there was Srikrishna and behind at the end of the lane called Dane Ali opposite Globe, was Vijayanand, which was “out of bounds” as it was in the red light area or bakaal vasti, as my grandmother put it.
On the other side of Laxmi Road, quite far away, on the way to the railway station, towards KEM Hospital in Rasta Peth, there was Apollo (the first air-conditioned cinema in Pune) which had no balcony. And as you walked on Laxmi Road towards Quarter Gate, to the right was Alpana Talkies.
In Pune Camp there were Capitol (now called Victory), Nishat and Liberty. There was Jaihind at Khadki (then called Kirkee) and across the Bund Garden bridge towards Yerawada, famous for its Jail, was GUNJAN, but then we never ventured that far, as hardly anyone lived across the river on Nagar Road.
Then came the advent of 70 MM and we had Alankar (near Pune Railway Station), RAHUL (in Shivajinagar), Natraj (in place of Hindvijay), Sonmarg (Timber Market), Apsara (Gultekdi), Mangala (opposite PMC), Nilayam (behind Peshwe Park) and Laxminarayan (near Swargate). I remember seeing Patton (1970) with my grandfather in glorious 70 MM at Rahul, where I now go to eat seafood at the restaurant rather than see a movie.
Now the multiplexes culture has taken over and you forget a movie the moment you finish seeing it. In fact, “multiplex movies” are designed to make their money over the weekend – it seems that the sole aim is to make money and not to produce memorable films, which create a lasting impression in the viewers’ minds. But let me tell you, I too love the multiplex experience – the atmosphere, the food and everything. One has to change with times.
I don’t like to live in the past and brood over “the good old days” but there is no harm in harking back to the past once in a while to evoke delightful memories of the “good old days”. That is why I have written this. I enjoyed writing this – I hope you enjoyed reading it too. Do let me know and I will tell some more about my “good old days” in Pune.