An art deco setup, palatial facade, grand golden chandeliers - it has none of it, yet this humble cinema hall set in the by lanes of Chandni Chowk came into limelight in the last one week- the week was drenched in despair. It had run into trouble over the issue of its annual license renewal that expired on 31 March. ‘It took longer to get no objection certificates but shutting it down was never in question’ says the manager,’ VK Garg.
A tall and stout man stops me quizzically at the gate of the hall. ‘Now, Moti cinema is functional. There’s no problem anymore’, says Raj Narain, the security guard at the cinema. Wondering why I was there now, he added that the cinema experienced a rather unusual footfall last week. Journalists from national media thronged to cover the demise of Moti. It’s ironical how single screen theatres get coverage over their demise; media writes panegyrics, evoking the nostalgia of their golden past but the same monumental halls seem invisible while functional. This Thursday night, with an impromptu screening of Aatish - a 1994 Sanjay Dutt starrer movie - Moti bounced back to life. Before it goes into oblivion once again, we trace its past and understand its present.
The alleyway leading to Moti is flanked with a huge hoarding of Jo Jeeta wahi Baazigar, a Tamil movie dubbed in Hindi, running these days. A man in his mid sixties, Shiv Kumar Jaiswal sits in the projector room with an air of boredom surrounding him. ‘I miss working manually on a projector’, he says pointing to the brand new UFO machine installed in the cinema five months ago. Like other big cinemas, this machine can load up a movie from Mumbai through satellites. He has worked as a projectionist for a good four decades. Though happy with the new technology, he ruminates the loss of ‘actually’ playing with reams of film prints.
In his reverie, he exclaims, there were times when he used to queue up to watch a Raj Kapoor movie. The queues used to extend almost till Lal Quila. ‘Imagine a movie running for 52 weeks straight!’ he says with a gleam in his eyes. These days Moti hardly plays Hindi movies; their target audience now are the Poorvanchalis and Bhojpuri movie goers. ‘Our audience loves action, so we run Bhojpuri, Tamil- Telugu dubbed movies and some old Bollywood movies in between to match their interests.’ Going through his yellowing note book, he tells me that Moti didn't even play the mass entertainer Dabbang. But movies like Wanted, Zilla Ghaziabad and Son of Sardar had a five week successful run.
A cat comfortably settles and purrs by in the night shift's manager room. Suresh Kumar goes back to the halcyon days of Moti. Established around the 1940’s, the cinema had its heydays when Raj Kapoor used to come down to screen his movies here. ‘With the coming of PVR's in 90’s, we had to switch genres. Nobody was ready to play a Bhojpuri movie Susra Bada Paise Wala a decade back,’ says the manager. They took the risk of playing it and got good returns. Now, they boast of hosting Bhojpuri artists like Ravi Kishen. The security guard Raj Narain chips in, ‘But we also had Ranbir and Nargis here for the shoot of Rockstar,’ sounding outraged for missing out on his foray into movies. He shared screen with the actors for the scene where Moti turned into Amar Talkies for fulfilling one of Heer's wild dreams to watch Junglee Jawani in Imtiaz Ali's 2011 blockbuster.
All said and done, Moti takes on a new lease of life; showcasing the same genre of movies, offering tickets between the same 30-60 rupees range and the same salted popcorn. And they have no plans of renovating. Why not give single screen a chance before they really fades into history?
ALIVE AND KICKING IN THE VICINITY
REGAL CINEMA, CP, Amar Kumar Singh Verma, serves as an accountant at Regal since 1977. He gushes, ‘Whoever comes to talk about Regal is sent over to me. Its not viable for a single screen like us to work anymore. But being a point of confluence in CP, youngsters still come down to watch movies here.’ He added that foreigners visit it for its heritage value in Delhi. In those days, a full house was a routine but now its a rare phenomenon. Disappointedly he quipped, ‘Regal witnessed its last housefull on 26 January, this year.’ From Prithiviraj Kapoor’s theatre to latest bollywood movies, Regal has seen it all since 1932. A chequered hall leading to a passage filled with black and white pictures of the yesteryears stars, Regal is a piece of history.
Capacity: 658 SEATS
Price Range: Rs 50-120
Technology: Uses UFO for loading movies from July 2012
GOLCHA CINEMA, DARYAGANJ, Established in 1954, it is designed in art deco style of 1950’s. NR Saini, the DGM says ‘ We feature family dramas so are target audience are families ever since we opened’.
Price Range: Rs 50- 120
Technology: adopted UFO 2 months ago
SHEILA CINEMA, PAHARGANJ, Established in 1960 showcases both Bollywood and Hollywood movies. Its target audience varies from youngsters to foreigners inhabiting the area around, says the manager, Prakash Dubey. He adds, ‘With the rise of affordable hotels and restaurants for tourists around Paharganj, Sheila saw a rise in numbers of foreigners visiting it’. He is hopeful of a better season at the hall when IPL matches get over.
Price Range: 60-120
Technology: UFO since the last 10 years