Regal, the 84-year-old movie hall in the heart of Delhi, will close down on March 31, only to return as a multiplex. The next change, Anushka Sharma-starrer Phillauri, will be the last movie to be screened in the cinema’s current single-screen avatar.
One of the owners of the hall, Vishal Choudhary, said that he has applied for the permission to open a multiplex in the heritage building and has got 60% of the proposal cleared. “We have got the no-objection certificate from fire department and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as it is a heritage site, our designs have been approved by Delhi Urban Arts Commission,” he told Hindustan Times.
“It will, however, take at least a year before the work begins as we have to take permission from several other departments and it takes a long time to finish these things,” he said. Hindustan Times had reported on December 22 that the cinema was on the verge of closing due to severe cash crunch aggravated by demonetisation.
Choudhary said it was time to fold up Regal as they had not been making money for many years now. “Business has been down for a decade and last month’s collection of the movie Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya was also not very good.” He said the cinema hall has been unable to recover operating costs in past two years. “Half the money we get from the tickets goes to the distributor. It costs us over Rs2 lakh a week to run a show.”
Choudhary also said that they didn’t want to take any chances after the collapse of some buildings in the Connaught Place recently. The New Delhi Municipal Council has asked the owners of buildings in the area to prove structural capability. This is another reason why he decided to close the theatre and rebuild it. A notice signed by owner VK Mahajan, posted outside the cinema states: “The structural engineer has stated that our building is very old, its inspection will require a long period and we shall not be in a position to carry out business activity...”
New Delhi Municipal Council chairman Naresh Kumar told HT that blaming the civic agency for the bad condition of a private building is unfair.
“Any building which is structurally unsafe should be repaired, refurnished and retrofitted by the building owner. The onus is on the owner and it has got nothing to do with the local body. If the Regal building is ‘unsafe’, they can do repairs,” he said.
According to Kumar, the owner has already started the process for permission from the civic body to operate a multiplex.
“They have already applied for the required permission to run a multiplex in the Regal Building. We haven’t given the nod yet. However, if the building is not fit enough for a single screen, how can it house multiple screens,” the NDMC chairman said.
The theatre, built in 1932, holds a special charm for movie lovers, who see it as a place where erstwhile superstars Raj Kapoor and Nargis used to attend film premieres.
The first and second floors of the Regal Building were sold to Madame Tussauds in 1996, so the famed wax museum could open its 22nd branch in Delhi. The ground floor remains with the owner.
The number of visitors to single screen cinemas has been dwindling ever since Delhi’s first multiplex, now called PVR Priya, opened in Vasant Vihar in 1997. The subsequent mushrooming of multiplexes and malls in every corner forced the smaller single-screen theatres to shut down.
Attempts at survival are proving to be ineffective. Even after renovating the cinemas, installing latest technologies, and keeping the price of tickets to minimum, these cinemas find themselves inching towards the end.