It was in summer of 2005 that I was eagerly awaiting Kamal Haasan’s Mumbai Express – his collaboration with director Singeetam Srinivasa Rao after the hilarious Pushpak (1987). Unfortunately, Mumbai Express didn’t release in my area (Dadar – Mahim) and so I decided to sacrifice my Sunday afternoon siesta to travel all the way to Vile Parle’s Suncity cinema to catch the movie. While the film left me with mixed feelings, the then newly constructed Suncity Cinemas impressed me a lot.
Situated near the Parle Biscuit factory and bang opposite Shaan cinema, the theatre was known as Laxmi Talkies until the ‘90s and was then a small two hundred fifty seater non air-conditioned cinema neatly divided in to upper and lower stalls and a balcony. The stalls had wooden seats while the balcony was more luxurious with cushioned chairs. There was a minimalistic canteen and a somewhat hygienic washroom as well.
Laxmi was centrally located in between many housing colonies and its residents could actually see the projection room and hear the film’s dialogues from their building terraces. Sometimes, kids from neighboring societies would stand near the theatre wall adjacent to projection room to get a glimpse of the ongoing film. In those days, the ticket price was maximum two rupees which would go for double this amount in black for a housefull show.
The theatre was situated in a Maharashtrian locality where people would love to watch their regional cinema. Catering to them, Laxmi screened many Marathi movies of that era particularly those featuring Dada Kondke like Ekta Jeev Sadashiv (1972), Andhala Marto Dola (1973), etc which drew in a huge crowd. Ashok Saraf’s debut Donhi Gharcha Pahuna (1971) was another blockbuster at Laxmi. Apart from Marathi films, Rajesh Khanna was also a crowd puller here and his Haathi Mere Saathi (1971) ran housefull for multiple weeks By mid ‘70s, new single screens started coming up in the nearby area; particularly the emergence of Bahar Cinema gave a tough competition to Laxmi Talkies. Bahar was better equipped spacious hall and soon enough, became the first choice for Parle residents. Later, the next door Vyankatesh transformed in to Shaan Cinema even while Laxmi showed no sign of development.
An interesting incident occurred at the theatre during the screening of Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer (1973). During the popular song ‘Yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagi’, the projecter developed a snag which made Pran dance faster than the actual song leading to catcalls from the audience. Rumors of sabotage surfaced later.
The ‘80s saw Laxmi play most of Jeetendra’s South actioners as well as Ramsay horror flicks which were the toast of the times. By the ‘90s, the theatre was in a bad state due to non-maintenance and would often screen sleazy B grade films. It shut down around 1994 -95 and demolished soon thereafter to make way for Suncity.
After being shut for almost a decade, Laxmi Talkies re-opened in a brand new avatar in 2003 as Suncity Cinemas – a twin plex with Rakesh Roshan’s blockbuster Koi Mil Gaya. The theatre was inaugurated by then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Sushil Kumar Shinde in presence of Koi Mil Gaya cast and crew plus many big names from the film industry like Feroz Khan and Sanjay Khan. The twin cinemas had seating capacity of roughly three hundred fifty seats each with the second screen opening two weeks later with Ajay Devgn’s Gangaajal.
Owned by Feroze Lakdawala, Suncity was designed by architect Narendra Kowadekar with a lavish roof terrace and a total seven hundred seating capacity which could host film premieres and post screening parties. The sound system was equipped with Dolby Digital sound where speakers were being imported from Martin Audio London and the amplification done by Ashly FTX series. With this state of the art facility, Suncity became the prime cinemas of Parle area in no time. The twin cinemas screened mostly Hindi, Marathi and English films with the occasional show or two for Gujarati cinema as well.
In 2018, the theatre underwent a management change with the showman of Hindi cinema – Subhash Ghai becoming its new owner. Renamed Mukta A2 Suncity, the new plex was inaugurated by his wife Mukta Ghai and opened with Salman Khan’s Eid offering Race 3. With this new management, Suncity continued its successful journey screening the biggest hits in Hindi and Marathi. Some of them are : Sanju (2018), Stree (2018), Simmba (2018), Aani Kashinath Ghanekar (2018), Thackeray (2019), Hirkani (2019),Kabir Singh (2019), WAR (2019), Dhurala (2020),Tanhaji : The Unsung Warrior (2020) and Baaghi 3 (2020).
The plex is now shut due to the Covid 19 lockdown in Mumbai but is a matter of time before it screens the next big blockbuster. Fingers crossed!!
All images courtesy Internet