Bioscopes of the Walled City

– Shariq Haider Naqvi

Entertainment today is nothing less than a NEED for people from all segments of the Indian society. Be it a business tycoon or a taxi driver on the streets of old Delhi, everybody loves to be entertained. The most popular form of entertainment in India is undoubtedly movies, which is proven by the kind of fan following artistes and movies in India enjoy.
In the 1980s, with the advent of home video, cinema halls went through a period of lull in India. Many theatres closed down. The turn of the century saw a comeback of cinema halls, this time with smaller halls and multiple screens catering to the ‘globalised’ consuming middle class.
For the story, I visited various cinema halls in the Old Delhi, Moti, Excelsior and Shiela being some of them. Moti and Excelsior have lost their sheen in this digital world, they are losing their ground day by day, but lower middle class & daily wage laborers’ love for regional cinema has kept them running.
I found the old cinema hall spaces particularly evocative of time and changing culture. But their conversion into swanky multiplexes or commercial complexes is only a matter of time. As these spaces will leap into the digital world, the trivia around will change.

Cinema halls like ‘Moti’ screen B-grade Bollywood and regional films to attract patrons in Old Delhi. This theatre was established in the year 1938 and has been running since then.

It is also the sole supplier of film reels in entire orth India.

A patron looking the movie posters in Moti Cinema. Once one of prominent cinemas in Delhi, Moti is now a thing of past. And is struggling to keep pace with Modern times.

Due to financial crisis, Management has not been to give salaries to its employees for the past 4-5 months. Employees fear that its closure will only add to their woes as they will be left jobless.

With tickets rates priced around Rs. 30-40, these cinema halls offer a cheaper entertainment for the masses.

For some reason, the old cinema halls were hardly ever called by their proper names — the Ritz, the Novelty or Kumar Takies. Instead, they were known by the area in which they were situated. So Kumar Talkies was patharwala and Jagat was machliwala

Hundreds of people queue outside these halls every weekend, keeping the cash registers ringing., but weekdays are a dry run for the cinema.

In spite of the badly kept interiors, the audience still throng in large numbers for the weekly entertainer film.

This projection machine was imported from Germany in 1940. It is a 17 mm film Projector. In today's era of digital imagery, such old machines still function as entertainment tools for many.

A 17-mm exhibition print is furnished to the theatre mounted on 2,000-foot (22-minute) reels. Thus, a typical feature film consists of five or six reels. For decades, the 2,000-foot reel was the basic unit of projection, and each screening required four or five changes of projector.

Mohd. Babu is a retired peon from a city hospital, who right now works as a torch man in Excelsior. This cinema was established in 1935, earlier known as the Inayat Pavilion.

Despite the lure of cheap entertainment, these places have fallen on bad times. The halls are in a neglected situation.


~ by Fotoramus on April 24, 2010.

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