NEW DELHI: In the elegiac last scene of Mera Naam Joker, the protagonist laments, “Jaane kahan gaye woh din (Where have those days gone).” It is a song of yearnings, of fond things that forever elude us. Like water running through fingers. That climactic moment was still a few hours away but it kind of summed up the mood at Regal, once among the capital’s premier theatres, on Thursday.
The iconic landmark of Connaught Place, which called it curtains at the age of 85, screened two Raj Kapoor movies — Mera Naam Joker (evening) and Sangam (night) – in its last two shows. A fitting gesture since Kapoor, Bollywood’s biggest showman ever, loved Regal. His films often premiered here.
Mera Naam Joker was Kapoor’s fondest and grandest project. The 25 reel movie with two intervals turned out to be love’s labour lost, leaving Kapoor debt-ridden and with a lingering heartache. One could sense a similar heartache among those who had come to the theatre, as they saw and remembered it, one last time. For them, it was like a salute to a fallen comrade.
Many of those who turned up on Thursday hadn’t visited the hall for years. Retired banker Narendra Grover, 80, is flying back to London tomorrow. He was a regular during his college days. “I guess change is the name of the game. In London, they preserve the outside facade of the building. I hope they do it here too,” he said.
Govt employee Azad Singh remembered watching Rajesh Khanna’s Prem Nagar (1974) as a school kid. For the young, though, it wasn’t nostalgia but earning brownie points for being there on the last day. It was about taking selfies and putting them on social media as evidence.
There was a huge rush for the tickets, especially for the last two shows. Regal’s manager Roop Ghai’s landline kept ringing for tickets. A harried-looking cop walked in. “All top officers want tickets for today,” he says.
“There was a time when everybody wanted to be friends with a cinema staff, it helped them get a first day, first show ticket. Today reminds me of those days,” Ghai says. Then he adds, “It feels like being separated from a very old and special friend.”
By 2.30 pm, all evening and night show tickets of the box (Rs 200), balcony (Rs 120), rear stall (Rs 100) are sold out. “Only the front stall (Rs 80) tickets remain,” he says.
In its prime, Regal had pedigree and personality. The CP’s first movie theatre opened in 1932. Designed by architect Walter Sykes George, it had Gregorian facade, black and white marble tiles and wooden panels. On its walls hung framed photographs of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Madhubala and Nargis clasping Raj Kapoor: stars frozen forever in black and white.
By the 1990s, like the capital’s many other single screen theatres, Regal had been discarded by the city’s swish set, who once drove in flaunting long shimmery dresses and longer cars, as multiplexes slowly muscled in. The ailing cinema received temporary life support from Aamir Khan’s Dangal late last year. But “structural safety” issues, says Ghai, forced its closure.
A theatre’s shutting down is much more than nostalgia. It is also about jobs gone with the wind. Ghai says the theatre had 20 full-time employees and they will be compensated.
Projectionist Ravi Kumar doesn’t have a clue what lies ahead. “Let me see,” says the 57-year-old. Nanak, 55, has decided not to work anymore. A special farewell lunch had been prepared for the staff on Thursday. “I don’t feel like eating. I feel like crying,” he said. His family cleaned Regal for three generations.
Regal is poised to reinvent itself. “We have applied for permission for a multiplex. Some clearances are yet to be given. I hope we can restart around 2019. As Kapoor saab used to say, ‘The show must go on’,” Ghai said.