Friday, January 4, 2008

Farewell to Chanakya Cinema

Nobody who's grown up in Delhi in the too-few-foreign-films era could have missed this theatre. Fans of Nirula's icecreams (me included) had one more reason to hang out here. The madhumalti-covered arch and the fountains outside the food joint made it a great place for economy dates too.

Since my school was in the vicinity, we saw several movies on school trips at Chanakya. I can remember Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Jungle Book, and The Ten Commandments. The first time I watched a movie in the front stall, during college, was at Chanakya. The movie, still a personal favourite, was Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks sat on a bench, and a white feather (or was it a snowflake?) floated down as he talked. I felt like I could reach out and touch it. Before the days of Dolby and Surround Sound, this was immersive cinema.

The theatre had individuality, it had class. It was one of the few theatres where women did not feel that men had come to watch them, instead of the movie. It was also one of the few theatres where you could spend time and 'hang out', instead of rushing through the movie and heading home. Apart from Nirula's, momos at various stalls were a hot attraction. A couple of shacks with glamourous names and dhaba-like interiors enabled financially challenged college students to spend time with friends over food.

All that will change now to the assembly-line multiplex model, with swank food joints, mind-boggling arrays of snacks and beverages, a million places to shop, and skyrocketing prices. It's not only a theatre that will be left behind. We would have turned our backs to a way of living where what you spend was not an indicator of how much fun you had.

'We're living in a material world,' sang Madonna a long time ago, but it's truer today than it was then. If all concerned will make lots of money from the deal, no amount of feeling can save the theatre. It was several days ago when I heard the news of Chanakya's demolition, and I'm still trying to reconcile to the sense of personal loss. More than a part of me, a part of the city I love is irrevocably lost. There is one less reason to feel proud of Delhi, one more reason to feel that there where the march of money is concerned, there isn't much difference between one part of the country and the other. I wish the ASI had taken over Chanakya as a heritage site, but history in the making is often ignored in favour of 'progress' and 'development'.