Kolkata is known for its rich legacy of stunning heritage structures still standing. It is probably the only metro city in India that has held on to its architectural past. Take a walk along any avenue in South or North Kolkata, and you will come across house upon house with retro designs and elements, which have yet to fall under the real estate hammer.
Among these historical relics is the distinctive Art Deco style Metro cinema structure, which stands on Dharmatala crossing on the busy Chowringhee road in central Kolkata.
A City's Legacy
There was a time when special weekends meant seeing a movie at Metro. It defined the city's culture at a time when Calcutta had built a reputation as a swinging city with live jazz evenings on Park Street, Raj-era club parties, and more.
Metro cinema first opened its doors in 1935, about a decade before India's independence. It was designed by Thomas W. Lamb, a well-known Scottish-American architect recognised for creating spectacular "movie palaces" in the United States.
American film studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) launched Metro theatre in Calcutta to promote their films, as it was one of the most significant cities in the British Empire at the time, with a sizable elite English-speaking community that comprised the British, Jews, and Armenians.
The theatre quickly became a favourite among Calcutta's moviegoers, standing out from others due to its big Art Deco aspects such as a dramatic, stepped façade and vertical signage, palatial foyer, waterfall-style columns, and a grand staircase.
MGM management only showed English language blockbuster films at the theatre, including Goodbye, Mr Chips, Ben Hur, and Gone With The Wind. The first film to be shown at Metro is reported to be Bonnie Scotland.
The theatre was under MGM until 1972 when it was sold to a local exhibitor who started screening Hindi films here. The iconic Bollywood film Bobby is said to have topped the charts here for 52 weeks in 1973.
Winds Of Change
The development of multiplexes reduced business in the 2000s, and the theatre closed in 2011. The historical commission of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation auctioned it off in 2012 to preserve the heritage building.
The Metro Realty Group, in collaboration with heritage architect Subir Kumar Basu, renovated the single-screen theatre into a multiplex which opened in 2021. There are now two screens and 422 seats in the hall.
The new complex also includes shop spaces and a bustling food court. Today, with its famous signage, the Metro building is a heritage structure and a city landmark.