Know Your Town: A Pune Theatre, Bomb Explosion and Their Connection to Mahatma Gandhi’s “Do or Die” Cry

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In Pune, going to see a film at Camp’s Victory Theater means stepping back in time through one of the tall arches that make up the entrance. Through an airy lobby is a doorway that leads to a dark, single-screen theater where rows of modern seating and air conditioning coexist with British-era structures such as a balcony that “hangs” without pillars. Weekends are crowded and weekdays draw large crowds, especially groups that have been coming here for decades.

What’s less obvious about the venue is that Victory Theater was once the site of a bombing inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s historic “Do or Die” cry. Three British soldiers were killed and 13 wounded on January 24, 1943, while watching a film at the theatre. At that time, Victory Theater was known by its original name, Capitol Cinema, and Pune was Poona.

Cinema in Pune

According to “History of Poona Cantonment, 1818-1953”, compiled by Muhammed Hashim Moledina, Capitol Cinema was established as part of the 1912 “Travelling Cinemas” initiative by AC Patel, who had started movie theaters in Bombay. Cantonment’s first cinema was Napier, a makeshift structure, which was so popular that it was converted into a permanent structure and called West End. It played silent films until 1931 when it was converted into a Talkies Theatre. Capitol was the region’s second largest theater. “The premises of this theater were originally the showroom and offices of Mrs. Ludha Ebrahim & Co, but later, in 1935, it was transformed into the Talkie Theatre,” writes Moledina.

According to film historian Anil Zankar, the first cinema in Pune was the Aryan cinema which appeared in the old city. “Aryan, Minerva, Globe, Apollo, Alpana, Bhanuvilas, Shrikrishna, Prabhat, Vijay, Vijayanand and Alka were the theaters that served the city for decades. Shortly after Aryan, Napier Cinema sprung up in the Cantonment area, catering mainly to Britons and showing images in English,” Zankar said.

Targeting the UK Viewer

On August 8, 1942, Mahatma Gandhi addressed the British government from Mumbai’s Gowalia Tank Maidan, now known as August Kranti Maidan, and asked them to “leave India”. To the Indians he said: “Either we will liberate India or we will die in the attempt; we will not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. In the crowd that day was an admirer of Gandhi, Baburao Vithoba Chavan, who ran a shorthand and typing institute in Ravivar Peth. “I resolved on the spot to ‘do or die’ for my country,” Chavan told the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge in 1971.

Chavan’s plans were to disrupt British war efforts by blowing up tent factories and furniture workshops that supplied the army, as well as burning the records of government offices and courts. It was when he failed to do so that Chavan “decided to take drastic measures to sow panic among the military”. “We came up with a plan to plant bombs in Poona cinemas which were showing English language footage attended by British officers and other ranks,” he said.

The cinemas selected for the explosion were West End and Capitol. As January 26 was already marked as India’s Independence Day across the country, the police were particularly vigilant. The day of the explosion was carefully chosen two days before.

Three British soldiers were killed and 13 wounded on January 24, 1943, while watching a film at the theatre. (Photo by Oshwin Kadhao)

Sacrifices and a doomed plan

Today, the downstairs office of Victory Theater owner Farokh Chinoy proudly displays the image of a bearded, turbaned man. It was Bhaskar Karnik, a science graduate who worked at the Kirkee Munitions Factory. “He was not involved in the planning of the blast before but was a desh bhakt (patriot). He agreed to help the group when they approached him. At that time Indian-made explosives n “were not so successful, because they didn’t have good resources. Karnik started storing the parts of the bomb, brought secretly from the factory, to his house,” explains historian Mohan Shete. the conspirators, Karnik revealed that he was always carrying poison with him. In case he was caught by the British police, he would rather kill himself than hand over his friends to be tortured. Finally, the planning and the explosives were ready .

Two groups of three people each were chosen to carry out the plan of keeping the bomb under chairs, in rows intended exclusively for the military. “It is interesting to note that the two comrades, Shri PS Salvi and Shri ST Kulkarni, who were to place the bombs in the cinema halls, were fair-skinned, of average height and of athletic build and could easily be mistaken for military personnel. Europeans. The other pair, Shri Datta Joshi and Shri Hari Limaye, who kept cycles for their respective comrades, were also fair-skinned and trained in disciplined behavior,” said Chavan, who acted as courier with Ramsingh Pardeshi. They were to deliver the packages – cardboard boxes each containing a pomegranate wrapped in khaki handkerchiefs – to the groups at the two cinemas.

The Capitol bomb is the only one to have exploded. “After the explosion, the police went on a rampage and launched an investigation to investigate the outrage and engaged in indiscriminate harassment of many innocent people at the slightest suspicion of complicity in the act,” Chavan said. . When the police realized the bomb came from their own factory, they began searching for the insider and focused on Karnik. A week after the explosion, he was in custody. “He was taken to Faraskhana Police Station in Budhwar Peth. The cops were happy because they thought they had solved the case by arresting him. But Karnik went to the toilet, where he consumed potassium cyanide and died,” says Shete. The white marble Karnik memorial is at Hutatma Chowk – Hutatma means martyr – near the Faraskhana police station.

As for the others, the police made no progress and in March of that year issued a reward of 5,000 rupees for information which might lead them to the perpetrators. Kulkarni and Chavan were arrested in Bombay while watching a cricket match at Brabourne Stadium which was being played for the benefit of famine victims in Bihar. At the end of March, Salvi, Limaye, Pardeshi and Joshi were also behind bars. The court of sessions found them not guilty and the high court also entered a verdict of not guilty except for Salvi, in whose case a new trial was ordered. “The trial never took place… Private Smith, who was a key witness for the prosecution, was killed while on active duty on the Burmese front,” Chavan said.

What did the explosion achieve?

Chavan said the slogan “Do or die” had been misinterpreted by a group of young people who were full of will, patriotism and enthusiasm but who had no direction or direction. “Except for a few incidents, our attempts at fire and sabotage, disruption of railways and communications, …. has not even succeeded in creating a scare among the authorities,” Chavan said, adding that the Quit India movement has, however, had an impact on the rulers and “one could say that it has finally accelerated the process of transferring power to the Indians”.

capitol today

The movie theater was purchased by Dara Bahramji Sukhia at an auction in 1959. “This property has been in dispute for 27 years. Dara Sukhia died in 1960, after which the trials were conducted by his wife, Dina Sukhia. “In March 1987, we finally took possession of this property,” Chinoy explains, adding that the movie theater’s name was changed to Victory to celebrate their victory.

“The cinema was in a sorry state but we have improved it. We undertook a major renovation in 2009 and brought in modern air conditioning and other facilities and amenities. The previous capacity of 630 seats has been reduced to 439 to make the seats more comfortable,” he says. “What is important is that we have not changed the structure because the regulations in the cantonment area do not allow it,” he adds.

A staircase leads to a spacious upstairs hall where people could wait to enter the balcony. Even now, the movie theater has regulars who refuse to come unless they have a balcony seat. “I ask them to sit on the ground floor because it would save them having to go up two floors. Many have changed to the ground floor,” says Chinoy.

Fares never exceed Rs 200, even for big-banner films, ensuring Camp residents can have a family outing to the cinema for around Rs 1,000, which is far less than one would pay in a multiplex if one were to add snacks to the tickets. “I have to see that I am financially viable and I am. I get a lot of full house, so why not maintain that? Chinoy said. His office door is always open when he’s in town, so he can see who’s coming and going. Sometimes Chinoy stands outside to greet people who come to watch a show.

“Each generation moves on and stand-alone theaters have come to a state where they will be phased out as they may not be economical. A very big factor that holds us back is the electricity bill. I would like the government to think about giving us a rate lower than the commercial rate, but no one seems to hear us. If they reduce the cost of electricity and a bit of GST, the self-contained rooms will fare better and even the non-working ones will start,” says Chinoy.

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