KOLKATA : The facade of Roxy Cinema, which represents a curious yet harmonious mix of 19th century Colonial architecture and early 20th century Art Deco, will not be demolished. That is what the KMC project management unit (PMU) that oversees the fate of the city’s heritage properties has decided, overturning an earlier demolition order issued by former mayor Sovan Chatterjee.
Chatterjee’s comment that there was nothing of architectural or historical significance that warranted Roxy’s preservation had led to loud protests from heritage activists and architects. Roxy is a listed heritage building, graded II A.
Speaking to TOI, a source in the PMU department said KMC under mayor Firhad Hakim had decided to revoke the previous decision. “The heritage building will be restored and preserved. The rear section will be demolished to make way for a building,” the official said.
Roxy’s original facade comprised a circular corner with a dome that gave it an architectural character, thereby adding prominence to the building and setting it apart from the rest. While this feature was essentially Colonial, the glass bricks in the facade is a thumbnail Art Deco feature.
The building will require restoration as the lessee had in 2005 undertaken a makeover that covered the circular facade with aluminium cladding. “We will undo the changes and restore the original look,” a KMC official said.
Conservation architect Partha Ranjan Das, who is a member of the West Bengal Heritage Commission, welcomed the change of KMC stance. “This augurs well for the city’s heritage. One needed a fresh start in the city and restoring Roxy’s facade can be a catalyst,” he said.
Roxy was initially built as an opera house and later converted into a cinema hall in the early1940s. Ashok Kumar-starrer ‘Naya Sansar’ was the first cinema to be screened at the theatre in 1941. During World War II, the army had taken over Roxy and turned it into a barrack. After the war, screening of films resumed and has continued uninterrupted except the odd closures.
Writer Amit Chaudhuri, who launched a movement against the demolition of architecturally significant buildings in Kolkata, had filed a PIL when news of KMC’s decision to pull down the theatre hit the headlines three years ago. The case was, however, put in abeyance after the judge remarked that till the tenants continued to reside, the theatre was not under any threat.
However, the concerns had persisted with a majority of tenants being vacated by a mysterious person with strong political backing. A floor was then added. The assurance from a section of KMC officials that Roxy will not be reduced to rubble has assuaged some of the worries. “A building like Roxy is not simply a matter of history, or of association with particular people or events. It is also significant for the intrinsic merit as architecture and the contribution it makes to the quality of urban scene or townscape,” Chaudhuri explained.