It was Friday, 11.30 a.m., June 15, 2001. Plaza cinema in Connaught Place was teeming with people. Though “houseful” plate hung by the door, black marketers were having a field day. Some conducted their business at the mobike stand, others at the new paan shop near the theatre. Anil Sharma’s Gadar , riding on hit music and Sunny Deol’s impressive fan following got off to a roaring start at Plaza –– and indeed elsewhere in the city –– easily eclipsing the collections of the much more acclaimed Lagaan that released the same day at Shiela, a little more than a kilometre from Plaza.
One did not realise it then but Gadar brought up the last embers for the historic Plaza cinema. Soon, the cinema that was once known as the address of Hollywood films, and later a centre for playing films from the Soviet Union, was to shut shop. It was revived a little later as a mini theatre, this time the prefix PVR added to it.
It was the same story at Odeon, almost right opposite Plaza. Not too far back in time, the security at Odeon had a hard time keeping black marketers and indeed the fans at bay as Salman Khan’s Chori Chori Chupke Chupke , high on controversy because of the underworld’s alleged involvement opened here. For weeks on end the cinema knew no empty seats as the masses lapped up the film. Indeed, Odeon did become something like a Salman Khan favourite; it played Garv with pomp and pride. It saw no reason to take off Tere Naam . A few forgettable films after Tere Naam , Odeon too shut shop, only to be revived with the prefix Big added to it. Another landmark theatre of the Capital fell a victim to the relentless march of multiplex chain owners. It was a far cry from the days when Odeon played films that were the envy of competition –– it was a Dev Anand favourite with films like Jewel Thief, Hum Dono and Guide etc, running successfully.
Completing the quarter of Connaught Place cinemas as Rivoli, now known as PVR Rivoli, and Regal. Rivoli, which once played Aradhana on the special request of Rajesh Khanna, is today a smart, little theatre. It is a vast improvement over its last days when sleazy stuff found an opening here in the morning shows though regular masala fare from Bollywood played to houseful crowds in daily four shows. Films like Insaaf Kaun Karega , Tejasvini , Sapno ka Mandir kept the business smooth before the hall was compelled to show a film like Sonu Sood’s Shaheed-e-Azam – incidentally, the film with a low profile hero was one of the three films on Bhagat Singh released simultaneously in the city on June 7, 2002 –– Odeon played Rajkumar Santoshi’s Legend of Bhagat Singh with Ajay Devgn in the lead while Guddu Dhanoa’s Shaheed with Bobby Deol as Bhagat Singh opened at Delite.
A few steps from Rivoli stands Regal, well past its days when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru brought a reel of a film to see before its release. Also gone for Regal are the days when Raj Kapoor conducted a havan before the release of Satyam Shivam Sundaram , a film that cinemas in Old Delhi rejected for its explicit skin show.
Today, Regal is caught in a time warp, some top drawer stuff is followed by some market rejects. But the show goes on. And Regal keeps the flag flying for the old times’ orchestra, also including Plaza, Odeon and Rivoli. Between them they made movies worth watching in the days gone by.
Some viewers came by ekkas, some by phut-phut seva. Many hopped off running buses. More than a handful drove down in gleaming Ambassadors. Those were the days, those were the evenings.