Looking at Mayfair-the legendary cinema hall, from a varied perspective
Mayfair in Hazratganj has forever been looked at from behind a pink veil, romanticized as a relic of the past. Something that people remember fondly and wish to relive. Mayfair, has been often attached with a longing, a sigh of what has gone by and what remains- Lucknow’s legendary cinema hall which showcased Hollywood movies.
Several articles have also been written about how Mayfair was an entertainment crown jewel, the pride of Awadh and how Lucknow let it slip away like sand from from within its fingers.
A popular article by The Times of India: ‘Would love to have my Mayfair back’, published in 2015 talked of the aforementioned longing. It had several quotes from people who were lost reminiscing about the days when they went to the iconic cinema hall to watch some movie. The article talked of the cinema hall once being a ballroom and having live shows, looking once again through rose tinted glasses.
Let’s take a trip down the spiraling roads of history and shine a light on what Mayfair stands for. Mayfair found it’s genesis during the pre-independence era, the time when the British had quite a stronghold over Oudh or Awadh. The Mayfair building complex consisted of a restaurant on the ground floor, a cinema hall adjoining the same and a ballroom on its first floor.
The Mayfair was renowned for showcasing Hollywood movies and the ritual started with night shows, which were apparently quite fashionable in the Victorian era. The gora sahibs and their mems would go out for dancing in the ballroom followed by a dinner and a late night movie premier.
Mayfair held up the tradition of running only Hollywood movies for 33 years. This was later broken post-independence, more-so because of the increasing public demand of Bollywood movies than the business aspect. Bollywood movies were such big hit that only three of them ran in Mayfair for 8 whole years.
What people who look at Mayfair wide-eyed and tearful might have forgotten that Mayfair was once a symbol of the disparity faced by Indians every single day. The sign board that said “Dogs and Indians are not allowed” was a prominent one and conveyed the British sentiment quite aptly. The fact that our colonizers considered the natives less than or merely equal to animals is not only astonishing but outrageous.
Yet, when people talk about places like Mayfair and the British Council Library, they feel like we have lost an important piece of our culture.
This makes one wonder, if going to the Mayfair and walking along the “dress circle” was our desperate attempt to replicate everything our colonizer did? Were we trying to claim something that wasn’t ours to make it our own? Were we trying to prove a point?
Was our dedication a way of romanticizing the language of our colonizer or was it an attempt to become more like the goras we had so painstakingly driven out of the country?
Even after 72 years of independence, we haven’t been able to break the pedestal, the West put itself upon. When we look at our history from this perspective, was ‘letting the legendary cinema hall fade into oblivion’, not a better way to let go of our past and heal? Should we have celebrated it as a relic that shines bright on our cultural heritage?
Should we have claimed something that was one a symbol of our long plight, or were we simply oblivious to all that the “Mayfair” represented.