In pictures: Jaipur’s oldest single screen theatre Gem Cinema turns multi-art complex

In pictures: Jaipur’s oldest single screen theatre Gem Cinema turns multi-art complex

In pictures: Jaipur’s oldest single screen theatre Gem Cinema turns multi-art complex 30stades

On July 4, 1964, Rajasthan’s biggest single screen cinema hall was opened for public in Jaipur. Hindi movie ‘Pooja ke phool’, starring Ashok Kumar, Dharmendra and Mala Sinha was the first film to be screened at the 70 mm theatre – the first in Rajasthan. Gem Cinema, inaugurated by the then chief minister Mohanlal Sukhadia, soon became the go-to place for Jaipur’s swish set, screening Hindi as well as English movies.

Bureaucrats, socialites, Maharani Gayatri Devi and her son Bhawani Singh of the erstwhile Jaipur royal family would come to watch movies at Gem Cinema regularly.

Best known for its 10am Hollywood movies, particularly James Bond films, the theatre had to shut down in 2005 as footfalls dwindled following the rising popularity of multiplexes.

After a decade-and-a-half, the theatre reopened in a new avatar while retaining its old world charm when it played host to the Jaipur International Film Festival in 2019. The theatre’s history is replete with grandeur and royalty.

Also Read: ‘We need a paying audience to make performing arts self-sustaining’: Odissi dancer Prachi Hota

“A big function was held when Gem was opened in 1964,” says Sudhir Kasliwal, noted jeweller and owner of the cinema located in the heart of Jaipur.

The foundation stone was laid by Maniram Kasliwal, Sudhir’s grandfather, in November 1960.

The total area of the complex is 18,000 sq feet and the construction was done over 14,000 sq feet. Till date, it remains Rajasthan’s biggest theatre and art facility.

“The hall was conceptualised and designed by my father and Mr PK Lauria, an engineer in the Public Works Department. My father travelled to various cities and saw cinema halls and then designed this,” says Kasliwal.

The iconic building in art deco style with clean lines, strong curves, bold geometric shapes and vibrant colours was built at a cost of about Rs15 lakh.

During its heydays, and before the arrival of the multiplexes, Gem cinema was the hub of the common people as well as the elite. The magic of the large screen drew people to theatres and movies would run for several weeks.

“We had many silver jubilee films. When a film completed its silver jubilee (being screened for 25 weeks), a big bash was organised and the actors, directors, producers of the film would come to Jaipur to present the silver jubilee trophy,” recalls Kasliwal.

Also Read: How Ustad Moinuddin Khan is keeping the rich legacy of sarangi alive

However, as multiplexes took over and single screen theatres struggled to survive due to falling footfalls, Gem was shut down in 2005. So it remained under lock and key for 15 years, a silent witness to the bygone era of glitz and glamour.

Maintaining a closed building was an expensive proposition but Kasliwal did not sell the building or demolish it.

“I didn’t want to demolish such a beautiful building which my father had so lovingly built. He had got the best equipment available at the time. The best sound system, projector, seats, lighting, and best architecture.”

That quality has lasted over the decades and consequently there was little to be done when the cinema was reopened in 2019 for screening films of the Jaipur International Film Festival.

After the film festival, Kasliwal thought of using the hall for other purposes and approached Indrajit Bose, who is an interior architecture and design consultant.

Bose suggested some changes and now the foyer has been converted into an art gallery. Indrajit Bose who has lovingly restored the hall says there was little to be done in the building even after decades of lying unused.

“The building, seats, projector, lighting, wood paneling were all intact. We had to only clean it up, give it a fresh coat of paint and it was ready for action,” he says. He points out that even the unique air cooling system is still functional.

Also Read: Nirvana through dance: Uma Dogra’s journey through Kathak

There are channels running under the seats from one end of the hall to the other which let in fresh air on one side and let out stale air on the other. “This ensures that fresh air always circulates in the hall.”

The earlier seating capacity was 1,245 which has been reduced to 1,107 as the size of the stage has been extended, says Bose.

“The place can be taken on hire for exhibitions of photographs or paintings by artists,” says Kasliwal, who is himself an established photographer and has held solo exhibitions in Rome, Paris, Mexico,Tel Aviv among other cities.

Since the stage is now much larger than before, it can be used for staging plays or music and dance performances or conferences. The iconic cinema in pictures here:

Gem Cinema on the day of inauguration by the then Rajasthan chief minister Mohanlal Sukhadia (right). Pic: Gem Cinema
Gem Cinema on the day of inauguration by the then Rajasthan chief minister Mohanlal Sukhadia (right). Pic: Gem Cinema
World class equipment was imported from Germany in the cinema, frequented by the state's erstwhile royals. Pic: Gem Cinema
World class equipment was imported from Germany in the cinema, frequented by the state’s erstwhile royals. Pic: Gem Cinema
The theatre's electrical backend with marked boxes for various lights, fans, exhaust fans etc. Pic: Gem Cinema
The theatre’s electrical backend with marked boxes for various lights, fans, exhaust fans etc. Pic: Gem Cinema

Also See: Buried at birth, how Gulabo Sapera survived to become the global ambassador of Rajasthan’s Kalbelia folk dance

A picture that adorns the walls of the theatre. Pic: Gem Cinema
A picture that adorns the theatre even now. Pic: Gem Cinema
Sudhir Kasliwal, jeweller, photographer and owner of Gem Cinema preferred to maintain the structure instead of selling it. Pic: through Gem Cinema
Bhawani Sinh ji, 85, has been looking after the Bauer Arc Lamp Projectors at Gem Cinema since 1962. He came to fire up and align the German equipment when the cinema hosted Jaipur International Film Festival. Pic: Courtesy Indrajit Bose
A lense made by German firm Isco-Gottingen is in functional condition at the theatre. Pic: Courtesy Indrajit Bose

Also Read: Dogri songs by Jammu siblings win hearts across the world

Movie reel projector (above) and other historical equipment remain well maintained at the theatre even now. Pic: Gem Cinema
Movie reel projector (above) and other historical equipment remain well maintained at the theatre even now. Pic: Gem Cinema
The bygone era: Gem Cinema opened with a capacity to seat 1,245 people. Pic: Gem Cinema
The bygone era: Gem Cinema opened with a capacity to seat 1,245 people. Pic: Gem Cinema
The refurbished cinema is well-equipped for holding exhibitions, staging plays or film festivals. Pic: Urvashi D Rawal
The refurbished cinema is well-equipped for holding exhibitions, staging plays or film festivals. Pic: Urvashi D Rawal
Sudhir Kasliwal's paintings at Gem. He has held solo exhibitions in Rome, Paris, Mexico, Tel Aviv & other cities. Pic: Urvashi Dev Rawal
Sudhir Kasliwal’s paintings at Gem. He has held solo exhibitions in Rome, Paris, Mexico, Tel Aviv & other cities. Pic: Urvashi Dev Rawal
The new look Gem Cinema indoor entrance. Pic: Urvashi Dev Rawal
The new look Gem Cinema indoor entrance. Pic: Urvashi Dev Rawal
The 'Housefull' board used once upon a time is now a piece of art on display at Gem Cinema. Pic: Urvashi D Rawal
The ‘Housefull’ board used once upon a time is now a piece of art on display at Gem Cinema. Pic: Urvashi D Rawal

(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)

Also See: A walk through Jaipur’s Walled City: the UNESCO world heritage site where kings lived

Look up our YouTube channel

Support 30 Stades


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *