It’s like stepping back in time.
A balcony ticket costs Rs 22, the snacks cost Rs 10, popcorn still comes in little plastic packets.
There’s just one screen at Maratha Mandir, and two ticket windows — for Balcony and Stalls.
And the same movie has been running in the 11.30 am slot for 14 years.
Once you’ve bought your ticket for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge — that marvellous Shah Rukh Khan starrer in which Shah Rukh was young and Kajol was young and Mandira Bedi still wore full blouses — you will find yourself standing meekly in line outside the large wooden door to the cinema.
There are no cafés to entertain the easily-distracted, no piped music or plush leather chairs.
You can, if you like, strike up a conversation with the middle-aged, middle-class couple from Byculla celebrating their 26th wedding anniversary — the wife is an ardent SRK fan.
Or chat with the young watchman from one of the swank new office buildings in Parel, who is here for the umpteenth time — he says he’s lost count of exactly how many times he’s seen DDLJ but adds, “I love the movie and I love the four hours in the AC hall.”
On Sundays and public holidays, it’s still house full, says manager Pravin Rane. If you go on a weekday, the stalls will likely be empty but the balcony is packed with working-class men.
It’s been 730 weeks since the 1995 Diwali release of this Guinness world record-setting film, but the young men, drawn by the timeless tale of two star-crossed lovers are literally on the edge of their seats from the moment they find them.
Talking about seats, the rexine chairs are comfortable, but won’t swivel or slide or hold your mug for you. And, for the first time in years, you will find yourself craning your neck and dodging to see the screen over the tall man in front.
As Kajol makes her first appearance, hair disheveled and smile enchanting, the audience breaks into applause.
In the seats directly behind mine, two men whisper the plot in anticipation of the next twist, saying lines of dialogue out loud just a few seconds before Raj and Simran can.
“They’ve left… sold everything and gone away,” says one of the men, echoing a neighbour’s line from the movie in a rather heartbroken tone as he points out to his friend that Simran’s father — enraged to hear her talking about love — has packed up the family and moved them back from London to Punjab.
Everyone has their favourite moments — marked by whistles, applause and echoing of dialogue from various sections of the balcony.
“Palat! (Turn around)…” is a favourite, as the whole audience wills Kajol to turn around before she boards her train in Europe, signalling to SRK in some cosmic way that she does love him, despite all her caustic remarks.
Through the film, people will saunter in and out, skipping sections they have just seen too many times — this generally happens before the intermission, when the two are still at the hate stage of their typical hate-turns-love Bollywood romance.
Before she is torn away from him. Before Raj heads off to India to get his girl, armed with just her cowbell and his undying love.
As the drama picks up pace, Anupam Kher, playing Raj’s father, offers some levity, with wild clapping and catcalls greeting his brief flirtation with Simran’s eager aunt.
Then, just hushed whispers as Simran’s father finds evidence — a photo of his daughter smiling at The Boy. There’s drama, tears, an angry father, a sacrificing mother.
And, of course, the unlucky lovers who are actually just good kids and are therefore allowed to triumph in the end.
All in all, a good ol’ filmi film.
The women are women, the men are stern and easy to enrage. There are no leather-clad heroines swivelling off motorbikes, no liberal, dimpled girls getting pregnant before marriage.
As you step out after Simran finally catches that train and rides off with Raj, you have to admit it reminds you of a simpler time.
When there weren’t so many chic high-rises cluttering up the skyline.
When people fell in love, and stayed in love — at least on screen.
When the ‘movie experience’ didn’t take all day.
And when Maratha Mandir wasn’t the only one selling tickets at two-digit rates.
This weekly column explores the city’s low-cost pleasures