Mohammad Haroon had the option of getting into any kind of business in 1991. But he chose to sell Bollywood — and then cricket — to residents of one of Asia’s largest slums, Dharavi. His ‘theatre’, Hussain Video, started in one small room with a television set and a legal license number 11.
“Current licenses have numbers in 200s, I was one of the earliest,” Haroon says proudly. What started as a minimal investment venture has become more organised today. Earlier, films were screened on a TV, today they are projected through the expensive lens of two Sony projectors, worth Rs 1,35,000 each.
“Once our popularity spread, I decided to upgrade the business by investing in the projectors,” says Haroon. There is no board on the dingy door — as a conscious decision — but posters of Anup Jalota’s Don, collages of cricketers from the on-going Indian Premiere League (IPL) and one poster of Mahendra Singh Dhoni with his jubilant T20 team plaster the walls. Cut-outs of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan peep out from behind some of them.
SRK, Salman most wanted “This year, the IPL has been a complete flop show,” asserts Haroon, who began screening cricket matches on public demand two years ago. “The last two years, we got full houses, but this season no one turned up. Kolkata Knight Riders are the only ones who can pull crowds for cricket in this place.”
Why, you wonder, and with a didn’t-you-figure-it-out look, he says, “Madam, sirf Shah Rukh Khan bikta hai (only Shah Rukh Khan sells). A lot of people who came in for his team’s matches would only come to watch him cheering in the stands.”
Another Khan who is a big draw is Salman. Wanted (2009) was one of the biggest hits here, as it was everywhere else. An inconspicuous door on the 90-feet road leads to this tiny theatre. On paper, the ticket is priced at Rs 5, but is sold for a premium of Rs 20. The auditorium is a long and narrow dark room with minimal ventilation. There are no chairs. Viewers squat on the floor covered with a carpet and watch the films.
Haroon insists that he only screens Hindi movies, but there was an occasional echo of the word Bhojpuri. When asked if he had any special plans for the IPL final match, he sighs, “No, I’m not expecting a full house. IPL was a lucrative proposition when it started, par ab koi demand nahin raha (there’s no demand left now).”
Pointing to two carbon copies of what looked like old certificates, Haroon makes sure that anyone who comes into his theatre knows that his business is legal. “We get the films from the distributors themselves. And for IPL matches, we connect via the cable,” he informs. “There’s no ‘hidden’ business going on here.” Tucked away, lie many such video rooms in the interiors of this slum, where Bollywood still comes cheap.