March 3, 2017 4:39:58 am
BABU GAIKWAD is no film buff, but the 55-year-old staffer at Regal Cinema in Colaba awaits Friday releases. While his usual work involves maintenance and house-keeping duties, Thursday nights are different. Regal’s iconic letter board, announcing film releases and show timings through black detachable letters on a white background, is fixed by Gaikwad and other staffers at the single-screen theatre every Thursday. “Through the week, our work is in the background. When we fix the board to announce new releases, it fees like we are contributing to the publicity of a film,” says Gaikwad, who has worked at Regal for over 25 years.
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With most theatres in the city, including revamped ones such as Metro Cinema and New Excelsior, choosing to do away with the letter boards, only a handful continue to maintain them, including Regal, Sterling and Liberty in South Mumbai and Chitra in Dadar.
The boards, with readograph signs backlit at night to attract movie-goers, remain as iconic as the theatres. A staffer at Sterling said that while the single screen was converted into a multiplex over 10 years ago, they have continued to have the letter board to maintain the old-world charm associated with the theatre.
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Not many recall when the readograph signs seen worldwide as part of cinema theatres were installed here. The expenditure now on glossy movie posters, life-size cut-outs and other publicity material have led to the signs going unnoticed.
Mobile applications with up-to-date information on new releases and show timings too have made the letter boards redundant.
“But they should be maintained. You may be passing by the theatre and may lift your head to the poster first, then the movie timing on the letter board. You may make a mental note of it and decide on catching on a film post-work or at convenient time,” says Gaikwad.
It is probably this optimism that makes Gaikwad look forward to his Thursday night duty. By afternoon, the staffers are given a list of the new releases, the show timings, the language of the film and its certification. Depending on the length of the film title, they try to put as much information from among these as possible on the board.
“If the name title is as long as ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, then it becomes difficult to fix other details such as the show timings on the board. Then, we do away with those details. The movie title has to be there in its entirety, no shortcuts to that,” he says.
After they receive the details, one or two staffers start arranging the required letters to be put on the board.
At Regal, while the plastic letters are kept in a bag, at Sterling, a separate cabinet stores the metal-make letters alphabetically.
“We keep it all arranged by Thursday evening. At around 10.30 pm on Thursdays, we begin changing the board. It takes between 30 minutes to two hours to complete the work, depending on the number of shows and the movie titles,” says 24-year old Mohammed Safdar, a staffer at Sterling Cineplex.
Since it is a multiplex, it usually has 6-7 movies playing at its multiple screens per week. Safdar says a tall ladder is perched outside to reach the board.
“There are usually at least three men involved in fixing the board. The letters are heavy. One person passes them in an order to the person in the middle and the person on top fixes the letters through a hook,” he says.
At Regal too, Gaikwad and others do a similar task. On its art deco facade is a small space above the letter board to fix the letters. The men use a long stick to remove the past week’s films and to arrange the new ones in an order.
“We only begin to remove the letters after the last show has begun, precisely 20 minutes after the show starts to avoid confusion about which film is playing. Many people gather to see what we are doing. We have even seen small-time actors come and stare when the poster and the letter board is being fixed,” Gaikwad says.
“It may be easier to look on the Internet for exact show timings, but this feels like a part of the movie theatre experience.”
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