This is my second write-up related to film criticism in big, bad B-town. If a film critic doesn’t write about his/her own craft, or the topsy-turvy life associated with it, what’s the point? It’s a fascinating life, mind you, especially in the city of Mumbai – the melting pot for everything film, TV, writing, acting and entertainment. Come Tuesday, usually the next three days are dedicated to hobnobbing across various screening venues – big and small – repeatedly checking emails and texts to see if the PR folks have informed you about the press show, and then checking with fellow critics if there’s any information about the smaller films.

As a reviewer in the city since 2011, I’ve had the privilege of getting familiar with the holy bunch of screening venues for preview shows across the city. Most of them are based in the Western suburbs – a far cry from the regular screenings at Mahalakshmi and Bandra in the late 90s. There were some at Film City and in Dadar too, but I can’t really speak of them because I was around 10 years old when some of the senior critics began reviewing Hindi movies here. The one thing I can say for sure is that Mumbai has a spirited bunch of critics, some of who come from the far flung suburbs of Mulund and Vashi to watch a movie or two – and then suffer the ignominy of eating the same popcorn and samosas if these screenings are held in boring multiplex malls.

So, here goes:
This is probably the most chaotic venue for most critics – and really mainstream films have their press shows in the bigger screens (1, 2, 3 or 4), and the smaller ones in screen 5. Often, it does get a bit unorganized here, but it’s a convenient venue for most critics – as they can quickly grab a delicious meal at famous South Indian eating joint Dakshinayan in the lane opposite Iskcon temple, and then avoid the horrible cold samosas and watery cold drinks (free coupons) during the screening. The rows are always terribly long at the snack counter during the interval, so it’s best you get your food just before half-time.
The closest venue to a beach, Sunny Super Sound (the ground floor of Sunny Deol’s large bungalow and sound studio) has a preview theatre that sparkles with blue, silver and red colors once you enter it – no prizes for who must’ve designed it personally. It’s a jazzy hall that hosts a lot of screenings, especially the more private ones (Tuesdays or Wednesdays for a selected bunch of stars and critics), and also hosts a whole lot of B-grade trashy films, which is always a hoot for critics. It’s also in the lane opposite Iskcon, right at the end, and stands out because of the delicious samosas it caters from a small place in Andheri East. They’re the only samosas worth having in the long chain of venues, and I’d keep going back there to watch the worst movies only because I’m fed well.
Located in a small lane off SV road just after the Milan subway signal, this quaint little mini-theatre (owned by Excel Productions) is another gem that feeds well, and has a very cheerful bunch of people (staff) working there, and instantly puts most critics at comfort once they enter the basement venue. With a snack counter that often imports its food from Candies and other Bandra spots, there’s always a variety, and there’s an endless supply of coffee and tea served by smiling chaps. The sofas outside the heavy door of the hall are comfortable, and much like a luxurious living room (which is what Farhan and Ritesh probably treat it as), this venue is my favorite just for its warmth and coffee-roasted scents – even though it’s probably the farthest from my house in Oshiwara.
The newly-furnished and swanky Fun Republic screens – irrespective of the boring and overpriced typical multiplex rip-off foods it offers – are fast becoming favorites for critics simply because of the superior sound technology and air conditioning, as well as the eye-pleasing interiors. Also, there’s an Irish House on the ground floor along with KFC and McDonalds, as well as a lovely little joint called Vedge – which serves some fantastic pizzas and Bhaji Pav. It’s a haven for bored critics, who usually have to wait an hour because most shows never start on time here because of a mad rush and disorganized PR machinery. The Fun Republic Preview theater is also on the 7th floor, again refurbished much like the main halls, and is swanky and offers some delicious sandwiches. All in all, this is a good mainstream venue for critics, and shares a wall with YRF; don’t be surprised to see a few happy critics high on beer in these halls.
Formerly Fame Adlabs, PVR ECX now hosts a variety of early shows – including a few English movies, and has more food variety than the other PVRs put together. The mall adjoining it (Citi Mall) is shady as ever, and critics have to find their way out after screenings. A lot of press shows-cum-conferences are arranged in the large foyer here, but lately, Fun Republic seems to have climbed up the pecking order and replaced the PVRs as a primary screening venue.
Also called Cinemax Versova, this multiplex now hosts the more seedy movie ‘premieres’ late into the night, and remains the only venue I’ve been served alcohol at during a screening (along with bumping into Rakhi Sawant and KRK) – which makes it a haven for B-movie enthusiasts. Most critics find themselves yawning away late into the night or at early morning Friday shows (9 AM mostly) to just get done with their reviews. It’s not a favorite anymore, and though it’s the closest to my house, I’d stay away from movies that have its press shows here.
The newly opened Carnival chain, just off Link Road ahead of Goregaon bus depot, lies in a yet-to-be-occupied ghost mall. I’ve only been here once to watch Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Calendar Girls’ – a seedy movie with seedy people at what looks like a seedy venue. Even the samosas are considerably smaller, though the hot chocolate is not so bad. Nothing to write home about, and probably not even as good as the PVR chain of cinemas.
Located in the basement of the planetarium in Worli, the NFDC theater mostly hosts independent Indian films and a lot of English films. Suburban critics stay away simply because it’s impossible to find a cab after the 6 PM show. It’s a cozy theatre otherwise, and is a favorite for townie critics who don’t like watching Friday morning shows at the gloomy INOX at Nariman Point. I’ve seen some good regional films here, and it remains a favorite for smaller movies that can’t afford mainstream venues. Unfortunately, there are no pubs nearby for tired critics to ‘rest’ in.
Probably the most popular and nostalgic halls for the old-school critics, this one rarely hosts any mainstream screenings anymore. The snack hall is a nice place to be in, but the preview theater is old and probably meant only for working cuts of films being made in the studio. I’ve been here a couple of times for movies I don’t remember, and here’s a pro-tip: it’s bang in between Mahalaxmi station and Phoenix Mills – so you know what to do. Walk, and walk some more. Cabs are a nightmare.
The big-ticket venue, mostly for high-profile Hollywood screenings and by-invite-only shows. It’s a pain to get there and get back, but I remember watching Interstellar on the IMAX screen here in its press show, and the experience was quite different from the run-of-the-mill screenings in suburban theaters. Almost no Hindi movies have their previews here.
The worst and shadiest of them all – remains the only place where I’ve been offered a bribe by a C-movie producer. Thrice here, and three of the worst films I’ve seen in my life. This is no coincidence, for the hall hosts shady veterans, leggy starlets and cold soggy sandwiches. In fact, this venue is so bad that no lady critic can even think of attending a show here. The musty, stinky air inside the red-themed screening hall doesn’t help either, and it’s a venue I’d ask most human beings to stay away from.