Indian cinema has gone global — not only can it be seen in 100 countries, but the industry’s biggest celebration, the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards, are being held this year in Toronto on June 25.
At the same time, Canadian theatres dedicated to showing Indian movies are slowly dying out.
During the glory days, many Indian theatres sprang up almost overnight. It all started in 1966, when S.G.P. Jafry began screening Indian movies in high schools in North Toronto. Jafry established the first Indian cinema in Canada in 1969, and others soon followed.
At its peak, Toronto boasted eight Indian movie cinemas. But home video changed all that, with an increasing number of cinephiles abandoning theatres for the comfort and convenience of their living rooms.
Still, for many, going to watch an Indian movie was a communal rite of passage — it was an event where people could mingle and share in the variety of emotions that Indian movies evoke.
According to Eddy Dehmoubad, the owner of Albion Cinema, one of two surviving theatres in Toronto that exclusively screen Indian movies, the demand was high.
According to him, greed drove distributors to measure Indian movies on par with Hollywood. Distributors, looking to maximize profits, took Bollywood to the multiplex, suffocating the once-flourishing Indian cinema industry in Canada.
The slow death of heritage in Toronto, might well go unnoticed for an industry as vibrant as Bollywood, that spans several continents and connects billions of people. But to those who were part of the experience, the memories of sitting in an intimate, tightly packed cinema house lives on.