The curtains fall

Those were the days: People line up to watch 'Partner', one of the last films showcased at Chanakya. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar  

In the Italian classic Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, the life of Salvatore is largely influenced by the experiences and relationships he acquires while working in a single screen theatre ‘Cinema Paradiso.’ Returning to his town 30 years after he ventured out to become a director, Salvatore discovers that the cinema has been converted into a parking lot. Single screens in India are also facing the same fate. A few of them — like Chanakya and Archana — have already disappeared and there are many Salvatores mourning the loss.

At their peak, Archana and Chanakya were the most famous cinema halls in Delhi, visited by both upper and lower classes — a practice supported by economical fares and elitist surroundings of both the halls. They were located in Greater Kailash – I and Chanakyapuri respectively. Chanakya (founded in 1970) had a capacity of 1100 while Archana (founded in 1978) could host 1020 people at a time. The latter died a silent death in 1991 while the former was razed to the ground in 2007.

Both Chanakya and Archana were ahead of their time. In an era when people were mesmerized by the Bachchans and Kapoors, they introduced Bruce Lee and Stanley Kubrick to them. This catapulted their fame to the next level. Hollywood movies were premiered in these cinemas and often released shortly after the West, which is an admirable fact taking in account the time these halls lived in.

Archana, the younger of the two, unfortunately had a shorter lifespan as well. Founded by Atma Ram Chaddha, this cinema hosted many festivals, including the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in addition to some classic Russian movies as well. It returned to showing Hindi films which, according to popular accounts, led to its subsequent downfall. Some also attribute it to the unholy nexus between the cinema manager and budding distributors. The owners also tried experimenting with the concept of ‘mini theatre’ but it failed terribly. The building, which stands even now, has a market on the ground floor with the rest of the floors rented by NDTV.

Chanakya, which started its journey by premiering Raj Kapoor’s classic Mera Naam Joker, culminated its journey with the screening of Aamir Khan’s directorial debut Taare Zameen Par. A famous lovers’ hang-out throughout its existence, it screened both popular and parallel cinema. An outlet of Nirula’s and other recreational shops in the same building complex were added attractions for the lovers.

In addition to enthralling audiences, these cinemas provided employment to people both directly and indirectly. A look-alike of Shatrughan Sinha who worked in Archana fondly remembers the handsome pay of Rs.125 when he joined the cinema when the tickets were modestly priced at 65 paise. Projectionists honed their craft here and dreamt of becoming editors.

These cinemas also supported the numerous eateries which cropped up around these halls. Yashwant Place around Chanakya is an apt example. Once flooded with customers, this market now bears a deserted look. The owners of the shops admit to a decrease of at least 50 – 60 per cent in their business which they attribute to the ‘unnecessary’ demolition of the Chanakya by NDMC. Their eyes now eagerly wait for the proposed mall at the site which recently got all the necessary clearances. But nothing could replace the charm of a single screen and effects it had on lives of people associated with it. ‘Ticket Blackers’, the poor who used to earn a living, have already become extinct.

The downfall of single screens has given rise to more mechanized, capital driven multiplexes but everyone one would agree – a rich legacy has been lost!

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 6:10:43 PM |

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