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Hamilton and Co Metro Cinema Hall
Chaplin Cinema Hall - Legend of The Lost
3017    Dibyendu Banerjee    28/08/2019

Born in a Persi family in Bombay on 27 April 1857, Jamshedji Framji Madan, known as the pioneer of film production in India, produced ‘Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra in 1917, which is a shorter version of the first Indian feature film, Raja Harishchandra and the first feature film to be shot in Calcutta.

Due to the harsh pecuniary condition of his family, Jamshedji had to leave school and at an early age of eleven joined the Elphinstone Dramatic Club as a prop boy in 1868. From its inception, Elphinstone was an amateur club, which by 1875 turned into a professional theatre company, touring around the country and staging shows all over India. Jamshedji left the theatre in 1882 and after a short stint of business in Karachi, moved to Calcutta in 1882, where he earned a fortune by supplying various goods to the army cantonments. With a vision in his mind and with his accumulated money, he soon bought the Corinthian Hall, a famous theatre hall in those days, where regular theatre shows were staged. He turned the Corinthian Hall into Corinthian Theatre, which soon became very popular for the glamorous Parsi theatre shows with women actors, a rarity in those days.

Elphinstone Picture Palace
Elphinstone Picture Palace

For the first time in India, Jamshedji started Bioscope shows in a temporary tent in the Maidan of Calcutta in 1902 and also arranged similar shows in his Corinthian Theatre. Apart from that, he also started the shows in Alfred Theatre, which he bought in the same year. These Bioscope shows were arranged under the banner of the Elphistone Bioscope Company, which also produced a number of short films. In 1907, he took over the charge of the Elphinstone Theatre Company and turned it to the Elphinstone Picture Palace, situated on Hogg Street, just opposite the towering red-bricked Calcutta Municipal Corporation building.

Jamshedji Framji Madan
Jamshedji Framji Madan

The vision of Jamshedji started to materialize with the opening of the Elphinstone Picture Palace, the first of his chain of cinemas in British India and the first permanent movie theatre in this city of Calcutta. Subsequently, for unknown reasons, the Picture Palace was renovated to change its original look, renamed ‘Minerva’ on an unknown date and emerged as the popular centre for a fast emerging young generation of audience, who loved to watch the glamorous Hollywood films. It was a small but neat and cozy cinema hall with a comfortable seating arrangement and aristocratic ambience, where selected Hollywood films were screened for the interested people.

Poster of Elphinstone Bioscope
Poster of Elphinstone Bioscope

The thriving business of Madan’s Theatre became a joint stock company in 1919, with the name of the Madan Theatre Limited, which created history in the show business, when it produced the first Bengali feature film ‘Bilwamangal’ in the same year, under the banner of the Elphinstone Bioscope Company. The film was first released in the Cornwallis Theatre (renamed subsequently as ‘Shree’) on 1 November 1919. The Company reached its peak during the late 1920s and owned many halls in Calcutta, which include Palace of Varieties (Elite), The Electric Theatre (Regal), Grand Opera House (Globe) and Crown Cinema (Uttara).

The beginning of the end

Unfortunately, the glamour of ‘Minerva’ started to wither away from the later part of 1960s, mainly due to the prevailing unrest political situation in the city of joy. To avoid violence in open streets and public places, even in broad daylight, by groups of young people and the unnecessary harassment by the police persons, people preferred to get back home as early as possible, rather than taking the risk of enjoying a film show. The resulting effect was disastrous for the booking counters, which directly affected the look of the elegant hall, which gradually started to lose its grace and charm. However, before it was too late, the local authority took over the hall, renovated to change its look again and renamed it as ‘Chaplin’. Strangely, Calcutta Municipal Corporation does not seem to have any paper, document or record whatsoever, regarding the takeover of the hall and the subsequent change of its name.

Chaplin Cinema Hall
The beginning of the end

However, nothing could change the writings on the wall, as the hall continued to suffer losses at the booking office. In view of the circumstances, the authority took the most simple and effective measure to solve the problem forever, as the building of the Chaplin hall was completely demolished and erased from the face of Calcutta in 2003.

The vacant site of Chaplin
The vacant site of Chaplin
Hamilton and Co Metro Cinema Hall
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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Comment History
21/05/2023: This photograph of "Elphinstone Picture Palace" is at Sreelanka, also established by Mr. Madan in 1907.
By: Arabinda Sinha [arabindasingha@gmail.com]
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