MUSOORIE, Feb 4
I saw it. Sitting snugly with my popcorn and coffee. That I’d managed to get a lift to reach just on time only made the smile wider. Of course I managed walking from my home in Landour till Waverly convent several years back in flat 30 minutes is something I reminded myself about even as I huffed down the Landour Bazaar road. But then came the blessed lift, never mind even if it was a rickety scooter, a lift is a lift, is a lift. And in Mussoorie, it is also a gesture that you don’t refuse. So there I was, 30 minutes before Sanjay Leela Bhansali promised to take over my senses with his Padmavat, looking gleefully at the movie posters, some new, some old. No I am not starting the debate on the movie; we have enough people doing it already. I will choose something simpler; I am talking of movies and memories.
I have said this to the three partners (all young enterprising young men from the town) and never tire of saying it actually; Ritz Cinemas has not just brought back the silver screen magic back to Mussoorie but also a slice of nostalgia. For I can easily recount having seen on a couple of occasions, silver haired couples walking in for a show, the light of memories in their eyes only brought by the years together. Of course there are younger couples, and students and movie buffs like me who had to earlier go all the way to Dehradoon to see a movie.
For the much needed movie hall in the town is the only old world charm of the town that has managed to return. I have seen only a few but old-timers tell me of the seven cinema halls that once existed. There was Picture Palace, Jubilee, Basant, Rialto, Capital, and Majestic-which later became Vasu. The tinkling sound of the cold drink bottles in the interval, the men selling orange toffees and popcorns in wooden boxes hung around their necks, the hand painted posters, now seem like memories from another life. In fact I remember being fascinated with the popcorn machine in front of Picture Palace for the longest time. As a little girl, the image of the popcorns jumping out from a red machine, to join the others at the bottom of the glass box was in itself, like a little magic show.
Thanks to the Britishers and then the sizeable foreign population, western classics were a regular here besides the popular Hindi ones. The movies released in Delhi’s Odeon saw simultaneous releases in one of the movie halls in the hill town. In fact Ruskin Bond, a big movie buff himself, once (on a good weather day, that’s when he loves to talk!) told me that he can’t possibly remember the number of movies he must have watched in the theatres in Mussoorie. Little surprise you find the movie halls of the town finding mention in his work. One I remember, is the masterfully written Maharani. In fact Late Tom Alter’s first novel, Rerun At Rialto was a thriller set against the backdrop of a now-defunct cinema hall here and he had also begun shooting for it. Sadly we’ll miss seeing its magic on the silver screen.
Clearly the movie halls were more than just places to see movies. Like an old timer Raj Aurora, once told me, “The movie halls here were a slice of the old life in the town. You dressed up to go to movies, you met friends and families went out together to the movies. It was another charm in the then simple life.”
The boarding school students for one, recall the movie days with nostalgia. When last week I was speaking to a school friend now settled in Australia and we got speaking of Mussoorie memories. Soon after the call ended, I saw my phone blink again. “Just wanted to share my laptop’s screen with you” the message read, with a picture of Picture Palace below it.
Movies clearly were a part of the life of the town. Why we even have an arrival point in the town named after a movie hall, sadly now a glitzy gaming parlour. But the gaming parlour is also a reminder of how things changed and the movie culture of the town sadly took a big hit. On came the VCDs, VCRs and cable boom and all the halls started being shut one by one. From 80s onwards one movie hall after another started shutting slowly, the last one being Vasu in the mid 90s. “It was a sad decision to shut the hall but there was nothing that could be done. It was a bleeding venture by then” recalls Javed Khan who was a manager at Vasu for 20 years.
Cut to 2018, it’s been over two and half years since the opening of Ritz , now leased to Carnival Cinemas and one can still feel the flood of memories. The popcorn is back, so are the cold drinks. In jazzier form yes but back, is the good news.