Almost immediately after the movie industry came into being in both India and the West, Goa’s pocket-sized capital had a cinema house called Eden Cinema, where films were screened regularly even before the 1920s. Just a shed with a metal sheet roof, the beloved city institution stood where the City Corporation building is now.
A few years later, the beautiful ‘Cine Teatro Nacional’ was inaugurated in Panjim on November 25, 1934. That is a significant date in Luso-Indian history, as on this day Goa was reconquered by Portugal’s Afonso de Albuquerque from the Adil Shah in 1510. ‘Nacional’ was run by the Deshpande brothers, who had business concerns in Goa under the name of Casa Rau.
On that day in 1934, Governor Craveiro Lopes inaugurated the cinema, with a grand band in attendance. The first movie to be screened was a musical titled ‘The Kid from Spain’, followed by ‘Sky Devils’. Cine Tiatro Nacional had a ground floor lobby and balcony seats on the first floor, with a wrap around verandah. Till the 1960s, the front rows of the main hall consisted of wooden benches, all seats available for 50 paise per person.
My mother – who led a busy life as nurse and midwife – never missed an opportunity to watch a movie. She liked watching movies from her favourite seat, C-2. Since my father did not like going to the cinema, she would take us kids along for company. I loved watching those movies. But when I was very young, certain scenes scared me, like the ones depicting snakes, or featuring the scary actor Pran, or other mean villains. I would close my eyes, and slowly open them and peep through my fingers, to see if the unpleasant scene was over.
The Cine Teatro Nacional also doubled up as a theatre for stage performaces. Every year, it hosted many school gatherings, tiatrs by renowned Bombay celebrities, and all kinds of solo performances, before the old building was demolished to build the present one. During the ‘interval’, two smartly uniformed lads would move along the alley and rows, selling chocolates and biscuits.
In those days, the movies were lengthily advertised in the local papers, with notes on the plot and the cast. A car fitted with the movie’s banner and a loudspeaker would also wind through the city. Besides these, a large hand-cart with the current poster on one side, and one of the next change on the other, would slowly circulate through the city with a smartly clad worker pushing, and gaving out handbills.
Everyone who worked at the theatre was well known to us. The booking clerk Mr.Venktexa Kamat would oblige us with tickets even when there was a ‘houseful’ board outside. We would sometimes creep in halfway through a movie, without a ticket.
During the Portuguese regime, and for some years thereafter, the movies, be they in English, Marathi or Hindi, had captions in Portuguese, as people were not fluent in these languages.
Post Liberation Panjim got another picture house, the El-Dorado, built by the Mavanys. Later, the Zantyes gave the city a twin theatre complex, Samrat and Ashok. After Sunday mass, we would head straight to one or the other movie-house to watch a matinee show. During the Maruti temple zatra at Fontainhas, there would be special late night shows. So people who came from remote villages could watch a show at 1 am, before going back home by the earliest morning bus of the morning.