Twenty-two years ago, a small corner of south Delhi became the centre of the national capital's cinematic world -- and a pivot of its cultural life too -- with the opening of India's first multiplex. The curtains came down on PVR Anupam, which changed the way Delhiites watched movies, on Thursday evening. It is the end of an era but also the beginning of one with PVR Chairman and Managing Director Ajay Bijli promising that it will be back, better and snazzier in about six months.
It was initially called 'Anupam 4' to make the message clear to cine-goers that they will now be able to watch four different films under one roof. More than brick and mortar, cinema halls are built of memories, unique to people just like their choice of films.
Virtually every film buff in the city has an Anupam story, of standing for hours in line to buy a ticket for the latest Hollywood or Bollywood film, of assignations with that maybe special somebody, of childhood birthdays or of noisy family movie nights. And then that sheer novelty of watching a movie show beginning at 11 pm, unheard of at the time.
That it all involved a bus, auto, taxi or car ride to Saket was secondary. The whole movie going experience had been elevated with the advent of PVR Anupam -- with more expensive tickets, more expensive but better popcorn and other stuff too, and clean toilets -- and that was all that mattered.
The curtains on the famous structure, which shut operations a month ago, came down in the presence of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. Back in 1997, India's first multiplex had opened with Khan's "Yes Boss", which went on to become a blockbuster. The film, also starring Juhi Chawla, was a shot in the arm for the cinema hall.
According to Bijli, the multiplex would be revamped and upgraded to make it more attractive for the youth of today. "It will still remain a very young cinema, it will have all the technology available Dolby Digital, 4K, laser and the works... We will have a new seating arrangement, all new sound system and projectors, and F&B services, Bijli promised. "These are just black boxes but what happens on the screen and in those four boxes is what creates the magic," he added.
Manju Bhandari, 43, said the theatre was initially very famous but there was a slump in the middle. "Things improved when PVR came into the picture," she said. The first film she watched there was Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Sanjay Kapoor-starrer "Raja".
Her son, Shashank Bhandari, an avid Shah Rukh fan, said he has been coming to PVR Anupam as a child and watched many films here with friends, without bunking any classes. The 17-year-old student expected larger legroom and better picture quality when the multiplex reopens on April 1, 2020.
"There should be a gold lounge too because it's one of those cinema halls in this area that sees a lot of footfall. Bad seats or not, most of the shows used to go houseful here, maybe it was due to its lower prices," he added. The ticket window started with serpentine lines lost in the crowd of avid movie goers waiting to sit in a hall that had another film playing right next to it.
But zeroing in on the ticket prices was a tough nut to crack, said Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, joint managing director, PVR Ltd. At the time, a ticket cost around Rs 25-30. Sanjeev Bijli said they struggled a lot internally about what price they should open with. "We opened at Rs 75, more than the double of the prevalent prices, he said.
The top executive recalled it was challenging to convince people that Rs 75 ticket could buy them one show, not all four screenings. "This one chap came to the box office with Rs 75 and had an incredulous look on his face. 'You mean for all four theatres, right?', he asked. It was quite difficult," he said.
With the advent of this hot new property, many shops and businesses mushroomed around the theatre complex in the late 1990s. For quite many years, the Anupam square was home to pubs, coffee shops and other trendy eateries.
Over a period of time, the sheen dulled as other, fancier multiplexes opened up across the city. Customers at tea and paan corners grew manifold too with PVR Anupam's rise, and the impact of its closing for remodelling has hit many of the stalls.
Gaurav Gupta, who runs a momos stall in the cinema complex, said business has been slow since PVR Anupam shut operations a month ago. The last few films to be screened here were "Batla House", "Mission Mangal" and "Chhichhore".
"Only 20 per cent crowd is coming these days. We've been hearing they'll reopen in 6 months or a year. Hope they deliver on the promise," the 22-year-old said. "There has hardly been any film of the Khans and Akshay Kumar that I haven't watched here. I try to catch the first day-first show. It suits our shop timings as we open late in the afternoon," Gupta added.