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Parting the curtains

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CHAT Karan Aneja on the unique film viewing experience he has sculpted

SECRET SHARERKaran Aneja at the screening room of Iron Curtain cafe, Hauz Khas VillagePhoto: Sushil Kumar Verma
SECRET SHARERKaran Aneja at the screening room of Iron Curtain cafe, Hauz Khas VillagePhoto: Sushil Kumar Verma

In the tell-tale lanes of New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village, a secret is shared every fortnight. The venue is Iron Curtain café, overlooking the Hauz Khas Lake, and the occasion is the secret cinema screening.

Operational since July last year, the screenings are the brainchild of Karan Aneja and are modelled on Secret Cinema, a London based organisation that began with the idea that audiences would arrive at a screening without knowing what film they were going to see. Unlike its London counterpart, however, there is a fixed location here. But that doesn’t take away from the secrecy of it all, at least to an unsuspecting first-timer.

The screening room is located behind the kind of door that looks like it has nothing behind it. Another door after that, and it’s the familiar darkness of a movie hall, except that it’s much smaller — a little like what a hall would be in a dream sequence. The screening room, an acoustically treated 15-seater complete with 24-speaker system and a nearly six feet tall screen, is designed for an immersive, intimate film viewing experience.

After a few failed experiments with film screenings at cafés in the Village, this was the place Karan zeroed in on. “Earlier we thought we would open a small café and have a sandwich place and a small room with beanbags for screenings. Then we found this space with two separate spots and it evolved into this,” Karan says.

The secret cinema screenings are curated by Karan, a self-declared “film lover”, and are free of cost. The only way of working out the secret is through their previous screenings — which have tended to consist of classics like How Green Was My Valley , Psycho and Some Like It Hot . The screenings take place fortnightly, and sometimes monthly, but they used to be a lot more frequent in the initial months. “We were doing it every week, and the response was amazing, but the people were like ‘it’s going to happen next week anyway.’ So just to keep novelty going, we decided to have it twice a month,” Karan explains. Apart from these, the café also hosts regular screenings where independent films from India and elsewhere are screened.

While the choice of showing rare Indies on the one hand, and classics on the other, shows Karan’s curatorial range, it doesn’t illuminate his personal tastes. He says he likes both equally, but classics “are something which most people have seen but don’t mind seeing it again. They do not get disappointed.”

One would think that such a project would be born out of a philosophical opposition to the movie hall, which, as a famous film critic suggested, are no more than value added popcorn stalls. And even though he is very much a part of the home-video generation, Karan can’t hide his love for what people over the years have called ‘the romance of the movies’.

“I used to love going to the movies; the perfect day was to go out and watch a good film. If there were many movies playing I used to get stressed, because I had to watch each one of them. But more than the films, I think I was in love with the act; going for a movie with a big bowl of popcorn,” he smiles.

And curiously, ever since the screenings started, he hasn’t found time to finish a single film.

BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA

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