‘The real showman of India,’ Subhash Ghai, is your new greeter at the box office of the renovated New Excelsior Mukta A2, although he’s only present in 2D, along with a splash of stills from his hit movies and a muzak version of ‘Meri Mehbooba’ from Pardes wafting over the speakers for atmosphere. (Please let it be ‘Choli ke peeche’ next time.)
Stalls Well That Ends Well
Happily, Mr Ghai’s real-life counterparts are the same as ever: bespectacled doorman, mustachioed ticket-checker who barely looks at our phone before waving us in without a paper ticket, and the usher, now clad in a canary yellow Mukta Arts t-shirt, who still personally accompanies us to our seat. The tickets don’t cost what they used to when we were in college, but the best seats in the house are just over a hundred bucks. And wait, is that the faint forever-scent of chai and samosas wafting through the now-marbled auditorium, or just the earthy fragrance of Akshay Kumar’s UP-homeboy performance in The State vs Jolly LLB 2?
The heart of this old Fort single-screen still beats to its old rhythms when we visit to take in a weekday matinee, but it’s now outfitted for a late night in Abu Dhabi. Even the neo-Romantic murals in the auditorium are splashed with metallic paint, so they can match the other doo-dabs of the new New Excelsior — so gold it could be its own viral Grammy performance. The upper stalls and rickety balcony that housed your furtive college makeouts have been replaced by very 21st century graded seating — cosy and still pretty good for a morning-show canoodle, if you can get over gawking at the marble walls and (yet more!) fittings circa 1922.
The Mukta upgrade makes it clear that Bombay is now going back to a favourite pastime, resurrecting grandeur it’s never really possessed.
We don’t mean to say it’s tacky, but this upgrade does send the theatre to a gorgeous Jay Gatsby past we’re not sure it ever really had. Two previous avatars of New Excelsior were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, too soon for Bombay Art Deco; the last version had all the architectural soul of Churchgate station. The millenial version earnestly delivers on all the essentials: a Mucha colour scheme, Egyptian wall art, tall glass fittings, Chinese-inspired wrought-iron railings and brightly lit concession stands that could belong in Chicago! The Musical. (Seriously: you'll half expect to see ROXIE! next to announcements for POPCORN and SAMOSAS.)
And so, goodbye to that hideous cement facade, and (more wistfully) to an old granite foyer where you could sit by the entrance as long as you liked if you had a movie ticket. The Mukta upgrade makes it clear that Bombay is now going back to a favourite pastime, resurrecting grandeur it’s never really possessed. In just a few months, we get a cake-box Opera House, more pretty and proper than it’s ever been; and now a heritage single-screen that thinks it’s Liberty Cinema. We’re not complaining — it’s warm and comfortable, and the concession stand, now run by BookMyShow, finally makes a decent coffee.
There’s still a great reason to skip the snacks altogether though. Reader, we leave Akshay and Huma to skip across to the 98-year old Café Excelsior for coriander-green keema served with pillowy slices of pao, so porous they could stop Alexander at the Jhelum. Around us, the lunch crowd is still making salli boti and chicken farcha vanish like there’s no tomorrow. It is this that truly transports us back to the time nu-Excelsior pretends to be from. Dekho dekho, as Salman Rushdie would tell you about this feeling — art dekho.
Getting there: New Excelsior cinema, AK Nayak Marg, behind Ministry of New, Fort. Rs 130 for an ‘Elite’-class ticket, Rs 120 for a vegetable sandwich. Café Excelsior, Kitab Mahal, Rs 120 for keema pao.
Accessibility: Easy access to box office, but the auditorium has no ramps and some doors are only staircase-accessible.
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