Yet Another Delhi Institution Bites the Dust: Regal Cinema To Say Goodbye!
The news that Aamir Khan's ' Dangal' might be the last film to be screened at Regal cinema, which had become almost synonymous with New Delhi ever since it was created in the 1930s, brings back a spate of memories impossible to erase.
The theatre that boasts of personalities like Lord Mountbaten, Jawaharlal Nehru,Indira Gandhi,Dr.Rajendra Prasad and Dr.Zakir Hussain among its guest list of visitors, one of those vintage theatres that are surviving with their one screen format is in the last stages of its existence.
According to reports the theatre has been running huge losses which got aggravated with the failure of its last release Befikre. The new owners of Regal, that changed hands in 2006, are hoping that Dangal will get back the crowds and help them tide over their financial crisis.
For film critics like us and the regular visitors at Connaught Place, the Regal building which was created by Sir Shobha Singh had become an iconic meeting joint with its Standard and Gaylords being active even on Sundays and other national holidays.Today Regal cinema stands alone and desolate with its two upper stories already having been taken over for setting up Madame Tussaud's wax museum in India.
Had it not been for an autobiographical note by the first owner Rajeshwar Dayal in Screen we would not have known that the first prime Minister Pandit Nehru had asked them to screen a film on Subhash Chandra Bose for which he got into trouble with the British Raj.But the connection with the VIPs helped them to get over such tussles.
Called the New Delhi Premier Theatre in the beginning, Regal, as it was renamed later came up with a large central porch, a sloping roof and brick masonry throughout. It went on to host, along with Hollywood movies, Western Classical maestros, Russian ballet and British theatre groups.
My own last close encounter with Regal, literally, was in 1993 when I went to see Maya Memsaheb by Ketan Mehta starting Deepa Sahi and Shahrukh Khan in a hot and romantic role.We had to go to Regal to watch this film during the India International Film Festival 1993 because even film critics could not watch the film at the venue of the Festival the Siri Fort auditorium despite gheraoing the Festival Director.
Sidheshwar Dayal who took over from Rajeshwar Dayal was always there for the media and a personal friend and he obliged us with tickets when I requested him.But as I met him later next week I could witness his discomfiture at the way cinema was going down the drain.For a person whose earliest memories of cinema were films Chandralekha (1948), Andaz (1949) and Barsaat (1949) the films of the fifties and sixties “a beautiful blend of art and commerce” it was steep downfall.
He was also proud that Regal had screened Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome (1969) and films like Basu Chatterji’s Sara Akash (1969), M. S. Sathyu’s Garm Hava (1974), Shyam Benegal’s Ankur (1974) and Nishant (1975), Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh (1980), Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom (1983) and Mahesh Bhatt’s Saaransh (1984).
My own initiation with new wave cinema came at Regal because I saw Ankur, Nishant, Bhumika as also Choti si Batt and Chitchor starring an innocent hero Amol Palekar at Regal.
However when Sidheshwar Dayal spoke to me in 1993 the bad tide in cinema had already begun and he was clearly uncomfortable for having to compromise for commercial survival.
"We have to screen some foreign films in the morning shows which I may not want to sit myself through but this has become a must for sustenance", he rued.
In the race for survival many famous institutions of Delhi including the Ghantewala of Chandni Chowk have had to close shop.
But Regal cinema, that is proud of its heritage including a room which was the meeting place for the great Raj Kapoor and Nargis is not a shop.It’s a living institution that could not compete in the Darwinian race for survival of the fittest because it was not prepared to go down.