<<Born in 1899 and better known by his nickname Masi he gave up his job as an accountant started with a 100 Shilling projector, a bed sheet for a screen and an open rooftop where he charged one shilling all round for the movies>> 

What Roxy Thavar states as 'one shilling all round' was in reality 'twentyfive cents all round' in the open space at Darajani. That was in the 1940s. Baqirbhai Alloo will vouch for it. There were no theatres in Zanzibar then and the audience made to sit on the benches and floor. The show was run by the late Abdul Masi with his projector and a bed sheet screen. 'One shilling all round' shows came much later in the late 1950s and 1960s, and popularized by the ladies for their afternoon 'ladies show'. She rightly puts it that the ladies wept and flashed their hankies. As children we accompanied them to these shows. 

The other enterprising family into the cinema business was the Talati brothers (Parsees) and along with the Masis jointly owned a number of theatres in Zanzibar and Daressalaam. 

The very first film that I saw was Diyare Habib' (Muslim mythology) at Majestic cinema. Majestic was gutted in one of the worst fires in Zanzibar stone town's history. Baqirbhai Alloo resided right there. I vividly recall that day as on our way to Mnazimoja we ended up there collecting those scrappy film reels. The 'Majestic' building that stands today was rebuilt. 

My first film at Empire cinema was Mehboob Khan's magnum opus 'Mother India' and at Sultana the Raj Kapoor-Nargis starrer 'Chori Chori'. At Sultana it was the Sunday 'morning show' and Roxy's father Moh'd Masi letting us in free. To date my all time favourite song remains Chori Chori's  'yeh raat bhigi bhigi...'(Lata-Mannadey). Those were the days when 'ye raat bhigi bhigi' had become such a hit that its record was most sought after and played again and again during weddings. Bhadra, remember those Saturday afternoons when the Zanzibar lanes and gullies lilted with 'aapki farmaish' programme presented by Zarina Patel and Malik Sheikh? 

I don't think the Indian films were banned in Zanzibar after the revolution but the tempo had definitely slowed down. There did come some Chinese and German films but they didn't go well with the audience. Also the 'Junglee' song 'ayaya karume kiya sukusuku...' was not banned as such but 'Sauti Ya Unguja' in awe of the President exercised caution. 

It is said that when Mehboob Khan's 'Aan' (first Indian colour film starring Dilip-Nimmi-Nadira) was being released in Daressalaam at Odeon (now DTV) in the early 1950s the theatre was decorated with coloured lights and flags. Also a procession, led by an announcer riding on a horse with loudspeaker in one hand and the 'Aan' banner in another, was taken through the streets of Daressalaam. 

The Drive In theatre also evokes fond memories. All the roads led to Drive In on Wednesdays when it held Indian film shows charging per vehicle rather than person. The vehicles included pick ups and vans packed with cine goers and there at the Drive In it was gala affair. Alas Daressalaam today is devoid of any cinema house.

Click here to view and hear collection of Classic Indian Film Songs at Dewani site 




Last updated November 2007 Copyright Abdulrazak Fazal 2007 - All Rights Reserved