|ISSUE NO. 3627 

  July 05 - 11, 2013


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Mombasa's Regal Cinema | Coastweek

Coastweek-- Mombasa's Regal Cinema on Digo Road as photographed by Ameer Janmohamed who later wrote a memoir of those days and his life in “A Regal Romance.”


Regal Cinema Was The Best
Theatre In Mombasa In 1950s

Regal Cinema was a historical landmark, but like so many cinemas it was overtaken by time, technological advancement

Coastweek-- Remembering The Regal Cinema: The troop ship I had boarded in Alexandria sailed into Kilindini Harbour and dropped anchor in the deep channel.  

Berths number one to four were all taken by merchant ships which plied between Kenya and India.

The year was 1949 and I had arrived from Palestine after a stint in the army for two years.

The Empire was disintegrating and many of us then young and adventurous were looking for a new life in new environs.

The big military base at McKinnon Road was in the process of being scaled down and later to be completely dismantled.

I was on contract to work there.

An enormous quantity of army surplus equipment there and at the Mbaraki yard was being sold to various local bidders.

The purpose of the troop ship which had brought me to Mombasa was to carry some of the army personnel back to England.

A friend picked me up after going through customs and immigration formalities to his house at Kizingo.

He lived in a nice cottage with a quarter-acre garden.

Most government officials were then accommodated in these quaint cottages which were roofed with Mangalore tiles.

At the Mbaraki yard, I purchased a Ford Ten car for Shs.400/-

My friend knew a Seychellois mechanic who carried out minor repairs and three days later, I drove the sixty miles to McKinnon Road.

The military base was a complete world in itself with electricity, post office, military police and all the essential facilities for living.

As an aviation engineer, I made many friends among the Goans, Parsees, Punjabis, Baloch, Arabs and Swahilis who worked there with us.

Some officers hunted as game was abundant, but many of us took advantage of weekends to drive down to Mombasa to go to the Regal Cinema while others drank and got into brawls at the ‘Star Bar’ or the ‘Bristol Bar’ and Hotel.

When my term of service ended, I joined a local aviation firm in Mombasa which was known as Jeevraj Air Services, which flew passengers in light aircrafts to Zanzibar, Dar-es-Salaam and Tanga.

I then flew the Cessna 170 which only carried four passengers.

Jeevraj was an Ismaili and a pioneer in Mombasa’s aviation history.  Unfortunately, the demand for this mode of travel was then not fully appreciated and eventually the firm was closed.

While in Mombasa my evenings were spent at the Regal Cinema as I then enjoyed watching movies.

The Regal Cinema was the best theatre in Mombasa in those days, filming such classics as “Gone with the Wind”, “Casablanca”, “Shane”, “Fountainhead” and “Blood and Sand” among a long list of some very fine movies.

The Regal Cinema was a historical landmark, but like so many cinema houses it was overtaken by time and global technological advancement.

In those days, its foyer was flanked by the Goan pharmacist, Edward St. Rose, Husseni Stationery Mart and next to it was the “Mayfair” another quality Indian tailoring shop in that building then housing Whiteways and Laidlow, but now the Standard Bank.

Across Salim Road there were two excellent grocery shops.

One was Belliram Parimall and further up you had Fatehali Dhala.

Regent Street on the northern flank of the cinema house had a line of Indian cobblers whose skills rivaled those of quality shoe shops in London.

Likewise London Art Tailors in the ‘Palm Court Hotel’ building and next to the Old ‘Mombasa Times’ could compete with any in London’s Savile Row.

These skilled craftsmen were Goans and Indians.

Ameer Janmohamed - one of the Regal Cinema's many owners - left Mombasa in 1972 to settle in London.

The Regal Cinema was gutted by fire in 1984 and what remained of it was just an empty shell comprising nothing but charred walls from within.

Ameer wrote a memoir of those days and his life in “A Regal Romance.”

The many historical buildings which made Mombasa a unique place and a real melting pot of so many cultures and civilisations are rapidly disappearing.

Today, all those places which accommodated spacious grocery shops, dress shops and sporting goods stores have now been converted into crammed and compartmentalised kiosks and stalls.

They give one a feeling of claustrophobia.

They are filled with worthless bric-a-brac varying from cell phones, second-hand clothes to shoes.

This trend seems to be a novel idea from Mombasa’s new landlords who perhaps have only one desire in their minds which is to maximize their rental income!

Today the Regal Cinema is a forgotten entity.

It is better said in Ecclesiastes:

“There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.”


They say that progress and change is essential to human development, but one sage put it differently that “progress being a step forward, brings us closer to the grave”!

Cahil Marduff, Istanbul, Turkey.

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