Want to experience the Superstar Rajini mania right here in heart of Mumbai?
Well, all you have to do is head to the eighty-year-old Aurora Cinema at Matunga to catch the first-day first show of any Rajinikanth film like I did when his much-awaited Kabali (2016) released. I was truly amazed by what I saw The theatre was decked up like a festive pandal including a thirty foot tall Rajinikanth poster. The films print was brought to the cinema hall in a grand procession with throngs of crowd dancing merrily and bursting crackers. A ceremonial pooja was then performed and Rajini Sir’s poster was bathed in milk by his enthusiastic fans. The packed show itself started as early as 7 am and Aurora was literally transformed in to a temple for Thalaivar’s devotees. Trust me; I am yet to witness such euphoria for any Bollywood star!!
Aurora is one of the few cinemas in Mumbai where you will find the audience dancing in front of the screen amid whistles and loud cheers. Like it happened during the release of Ghilli (2004) when a group of eunuchs would come with a Pooja thali and actually apply tikka on screen and then dance wildly to the “Aapadi Podu” song which became a rage. Such incidents are quite common at the Aurora!!!
The seven hundred seater cinema has an interesting history – it was established in the pre-independence era of the early 1940s and would play English films in regular shows keeping the matinee reserved for Tamil cinema in order to cater to the sizeable Tamilian population of Matunga and nearby Kings Circle area. Indeed, Aurora came as a relief for its residents who otherwise had to travel all the way to Broadway Cinema in Dadar as there was no other theatre in that area then. Over the decades, the South Indian population grew significantly in Matunga as well as the neighboring Dharavi and it became a weekend ritual for them to have a sumptuous meal at Manis or Ram Ashraya and then walk down to Aurora to catch the latest release.
The theatre itself, with its distinctive art deco circular-shaped architecture resembles a vessel docked at a port. Like most single screens of that time, it is clearly divided into stall and balcony with a basic canteen serving popcorn, samosas, and soft beverages. The ticket rates have always been economical so as to attract its core audience who still prefer it to the nearby PVR multiplex at Sion.
In early ’80s, Aurora was acquired by its present owner Nambi Rajan who understood the pulse of his loyal audience and made it an exclusive theatre for South Indian films which now started playing in regular shows. The strategy worked big time and soon, Aurora came to be identified as the only theatre in entire Mumbai screening only South Indian cinema. From Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi to Vijay and Kichcha Sudeepa, the theatre catered to all their fans screening one hit after another.
In mid ’90s, Aurora also started a new trend of keeping Sunday morning shows of English films and it is during this time I saw many Hollywood releases like Basic Instinct (1992), Jumanji (1995) and Mission Impossible (1996) here. The ticket price was less than half of what the town cinemas like Regal and Sterling would charge. Indeed, a boon for college kiddos like me!! The emergence of multiplexes and rampant DVD piracy from the 2000s took a toll on Aurora as it saw dwindling ticket sales in front of the ever-rising costs. In 2008, after the successful run of Sivaji: The Boss (2007), Aurora shut down for five months even as rumors emerged of it going the multiplex way. That didn’t happen and the single screen re-opened to welcome Rajinikanth fans once again for his Kuselan (2008). The show went on at Aurora…and continued till the Corona induced lockdown in March 2020. The theatre hasn’t opened since. Hold on guys, it’s only a matter of time. Let the next Rajini release come!!!
All images courtesy Internet