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The End for Delhi's beloved Chanakya complex

entertainment Updated: Dec 28, 2007 13:36 IST
Minu Jain
Minu Jain
IANS
Highlight Story

It was flashback time Thursday as a Delhi landmark wrote its epitaph in the dying days of the year. The Chanakya theatre complex that had seen bunking students grow up to teens on their first date and then as parents accompanying their children to a film called it curtains.

After 37 years of looking on as generations of Delhiites thronged its vast foyer, Chanakya theatre close to the capital's diplomatic enclave screened its last show Thursday night with Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par - ending as it began with another masterpiece, Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker.

It was the last popcorn, the last hot chocolate fudge in the adjoining Nirula's that was so much part of the movie watching experience, the last time they walked the leafy passage from the restaurant to the hall for many Delhiities.

And for some who couldn't manage a ticket for even an afternoon show to watch Akshay Kumar's Welcome, it was one more walk down nostalgia lane.

How many times over the years had they stood in line only to be told at the end that no tickets were to be had - even for sob stories of how they had trekked across the city to catch this one film?

This had been the hangout zone that witnessed many a romance; some that actually culminated in marriage, others that fell by the wayside and looked back as something that was just not to be.

For many, it was where they watched their first English film, where they shrieked in abandon while watching Abba: The Musical, where they sneaked in to watch their first adult film; and where they introduced themselves to quality cinema - trying to take in the complexities of Sex, Lies and Videotape or simply enjoying blockbusters like "Pretty Woman".

"There is something of Chanakya in all of us," said old time Delhiite V. Romesh Kumar as the theatre lost the battle to the capital's civic authority NDMC and prepared to give way to a multiplex sometime in the future. Workers said about 150 people would be unemployed from Friday onwards; a not very happy New Year, said one.

Romesh Kumar, who saw Abba nine times in Chanakya, remembers his first real date there - on Nov 13, 1973 to see Michael Caine's Alfie.

Banker Rajnish Vasudev, who watched Welcome in the matinee show, said it was a sad day. "But then this is life. It is a sad day but I am watching a comedy and laughing."

Some suggested that the complex, along with Nirula's, be preserved as a heritage site. According to cameraman Malay, who always checked out whether a film was running in Chanakya before he watched it anywhere else: "They could have built a multiplex but on top of this. This should have stayed."

On the surface it was business as usual in Chanakya, one of the last alternatives to expensive multiplexes.

But in adjoining Nirula's, reminiscences hung in the air. The Chanakya Nirula's, which has completed 27 years and calls it a day Dec 31, went ahead and asked people to relive the milestones of their lives. The first day, the first job celebration and all those moments forgotten in the pages of time.

Lining the walkway into the fast food joint were posters recalling that Delhi boy Shah Rukh Khan and wife Gauri had dated here, and that Sushmita Sen loved her hot chocolate fudge.

Others scribbled their memories on white boards inside the restaurant - where everything has been auctioned off, chairs for Rs.150, the light shades for Rs.300 and so on to Delhiites anxious to grab a bit of history that is to be demolished forever.

"The place was witness to all my joys and sorrows, laughter and heartbreaks, fights to patch-ups and as we call it - it was our 'Mandir' - going to miss you Nirula's," said Aprajita Bajaj.

Amita from north Delhi's Roopnagar wrote how a boy came to see her "for marriage". In time, she got engaged to him and frequented the café to get to know him. "In olden times it happened like that... Today, I'm here with the same guy, my husband of 23 years. I hate to see this place go. I'm here to say bye-bye."

On this Thursday afternoon, others were bidding farewell too. As the sun filtered in through the bamboo blinds, many sat around in the restaurant over their last hot chocolate fudge and that last pizza. A middle-aged couple, a mother and daughter and some colleagues taking some time off.

It was adieu Chanakya, so much more than a mere movie hall and an ice cream sundae. And as Delhi wrote another requiem, a modern multiplex sometime in the future seemed scant compensation.