In the last few weeks you might have read numerous articles on REGAL, its history of being a prestigious venue for Hindi cinema in the golden era and its last two shows running MERA NAAM JOKER and SANGAM, honouring its warm relationship with the Kapoors, especially Raj Kapoor.
But in the next few pages, I would try to give you the inner story behind the ‘Final Day Mela’ and a detailed emotional and technical description of the two shows which was strangely not there in any of the much publicized media write-ups for their own unknown reasons giving an incomplete picture. So here it goes revealing right from the day it began for all interested friends.
Sometime in the mid 2016,
came the news of Regal going to say its final goodbye to the city in any of the coming months. In the morning I read that in the papers and in the afternoon I got a call from an elderly dear friend of mine, who is equally passionate about Hindi cinema like me (actually even more), saying that he will be visiting Regal today and would try to meet its owner or manager (whosever will be there) discussing a personal desire.
In the evening I was informed that he did meet the owners and requested them to organize a Raj Kapoor film festival in the last week of operations before they finally bring the curtains down forever. Very well knowing the relationship Kapoor family had with the venue right from the days of Prithiviraj Kapoor and his theatre, the owners promised to do the same and thanked my dear friend too for coming up with this fabulous idea of a grand finale celebrations bringing the memories back. Getting a (thankfully) positive response from the owners themselves, we both felt emotionally charged, eagerly willing to see our favourite movies again on the bigger screen celebrating the spirit of cinema soon.
The next many months
didn’t have any declarations made but then suddenly one day before the release of PHILLAURI on 24th March 2017, the news was there in the papers that the coming week is going to be the final week for Regal, bringing in the huge disappointment for us since there was no news of a Raj Kapoor film festival anywhere in the story at all.
So the promise was not kept and unable to do anything as two sad, helpless movie buffs (probably expecting too much), we both decided to watch PHILLAURI at Regal together celebrating its ‘Last First Day First Show’ reliving the old memories.
The Friday didn’t begin in any joyful mood as I was sad thinking about the closure of Delhi’s most famous theater and one of the key landmarks of the city due to security norms and other obvious financial reasons.
We were supposed to meet at the theater at around 12 noon, but my friend was already there since 11 am to meet the manager as per the instructions given by the owner, whom he had yet again called last night, reminding him of the promise made last year of running Raj Kapoor movies in the theater before its gone forever. To his surprise the response was unbelievably supporting taking the humble request of a fan in appreciably right spirits.
I got there as scheduled around 11.50 am and introducing me to the manager my friend revealed the good news that the owners are willing to give one or two shows to us on the last day of their operations i.e.30th March (Thursday), provided the distributor of PHILLAURI has no objections and more importantly we arrange everything for the show including the print/file, permissions and NOC’s from all the concerned people and departments in the chain holding the specific rights.
The news was no doubt great,
but it was not an easy task for us with the ball now lying in our court waiting for our next move. The thoughtful authorities at Regal had kept their promise made giving the loving consent and now it all depended upon us, how we could materialize it further.
Getting over with PHILLAURI around 3 pm, we both began calling our sources to get it arranged somehow. Friday night showed some light as our calls were received well and it looked we might be able to do it getting a favourable response. A few good friends called us with their personal inputs too, sharing more valuable numbers and useful details of the concerned persons. And we tried to contact everyone from the distributors to the home video, digital distribution company and more to the best of our ability. Besides, my friend even successfully managed to contact the RK Studios too with his sincere humble wish without any personal motive or agenda of getting any individual benefits.
On Saturday night our hopes started getting blurred as it was definitely not an easy task to get everything in line from the rights, permissions to the prints/files and NOC’s in just a few days without any direct contact or personal link with any of the concerned authorities. Sunday got even darker with no one calling back giving a positive response and that’s when we both decided to let it go as we had tried our best and nothing more could be done exploiting all possible resources. In the evening we were out of it completely without any hope at all, but still had a feeling of satisfaction that at least we tried our best.
A new week had begun with a lazy Monday and I was not thinking about the efforts made at all moving on to the new exciting releases on the coming Friday. But just then on Tuesday morning I got a call with a pleasantly surprising news that instead of PHILLAURI the last two shows of REGAL are going to be MERA NAAM JOKER and SANGAM together on the 30th March. My dear friend was certainly happy like a bubbling child and together we shared our mutual happiness on phone completely unaware of how it became possible, who got it done and from where the permissions came all of a sudden crossing all technical hurdles.
Anyway, not willing to get into the finer details, it was enough for us to know that it was actually happening like a dream come true post the disappointment and I could easily feel the divine satisfaction on the face of my dear friend (while talking on the phone) who was no doubt the most happiest person around me at that particular moment.
Booking the Tickets
Checking bookmyshow next day I found that after a few early hours they had already stopped selling the tickets online may be due to the high demand and thus had to go to Regal for buying from the window itself. To my surprise the tickets were not being sold at the window too as they were numerous calls from known and influential people asking for tickets to the owners who certainly needed to be obliged first before the general public. I felt completely depressed standing in front of the box-office without any tickets in hand and simply recalled those good old days when arranging a ticket for the first show on Friday was nothing less than a herculean task for us especially for all the major Amitabh Bachchan movies released in the 80s.
Once again the only person I could look upon as a saviour was my elderly friend and I quickly made a call informing him about the ‘no tickets’ situation. “Don’t worry at all and go back home” he said. “I will arrange 3 for us (including a respected guest) for MERA NAAM JOKER (the 6 pm show), plus one for you for SANGAM (the 10 pm show) requesting the owners or manager.”
And just after half an hour he called me back saying, “It’s done and I will meet you in the lobby at 5 pm tomorrow”.
So the tickets were booked with the timely appreciable help coming from Regal's administration. But one thing was sure, that they had certainly underestimated the public response for the two shows after the announcements were made in the leading newspapers and social sites. In fact, looking at the chaos for the tickets, it was pretty clear that the cinema authorities had not expected such an overwhelming response for just the two shows and I am sure they must have regretted not giving the entire last week to this euphoria as initially suggested by my dear friend.
Now the stage was all set for the mega day and I was too eager to reach there much before the decided time of 5 pm.
At around 4 pm I got a call saying “Where are you? Come quick! Yahan To Poora Mela Laga Hai”………. “Will be there in 30 minutes” I said before cutting off the phone, and was there in next 25 clicking the photos of nostalgic posters of both MERA NAAM JOKER and SANGAM displayed on the walls facing the main road.
My friend was already inside the lobby, waving towards me through the glass door. The gate keeper saw that too and let me in without asking for any tickets or even going for a security check. No doubt they all already knew my friend there in the premises since last one hour.
Giving you an idea of the main lobby, within next 30 minutes it was quite crowded with elderly guests and people mostly in the middle age arriving to watch MERA NAAM JOKER once again not only from Delhi but from NCR too and cities as far as Rohtak. The media people from various channels were interviewing them with cameras and mikes in hands taking the useful bites and one of the journalists also interviewed my dear friend taking his address too for a later detailed interview making a visit at home. The owners of SIBEL cinema were also there with a young kid as their four generations together watching MERA NAAM JOKER and the eldest member of the family had too many emotions attached to the venue clearly visible in his heart wrenching bite given to a leading channel.
The first show : MERA NAAM JOKER.
The film was about to begin when they started selling tickets to the general public at the counter too. And that very moment we found that there were no seat numbers written on the tickets, so we quickly took the seats under a fan at the back (in the real stall) before the people started walking in leading to an almost packed house within just 10 minutes.
As the film began, I was disheartened looking at the screen as the projection was only covering the center of the big screen in a square, not providing the high resolution, full screen picture as per our expectations. Whether it was the issue of projection or resolution in its DCP or any other file format they were using was not known, but the small window kind of projection was really a disappointment, when the actual screen of REGAL was already smaller in size in comparison to other single screens theatres.
Anyhow, we soon forgot all about the shortcoming and got duly engrossed in the classic together saying its dialogues, feeling the emotions, discussing the natural shots when there was no CGI department involved in the making and almost every person could be seen singing along the songs like an innocent kid. Right from the first appearance of Raj Kapoor as the joker there were continuous applauses, sounds of laughter, shouts, whistles and more at every major scene greeting even Dharmendra and Dara Singh in their individual shots. With history repeating itself, once again the first part was enjoyed the most and the third performed the least till the cult “Jaane Kahan Gaye Wo Din” came on screen creating a lively atmosphere.
The intermission had groups of people collectively singing the songs in front of the media cameras and I personally met a thin old man standing in the corner, silently wiping off his tears looking at the infectious spirit around cherishing that very moment. As I asked him about his personal association with the venue, he smiled and said, “I saw the first film here as the kid and had my first date here too back in late 60s.”
By the time the film ended with another roaring round of applause, almost all leading channels were out there ready for the people to come out. And after a while you could see only cameras and interviews being conducted on every side of the lobby and outside the theater too capturing the canteen, staircase, ticket-window, posters and standies in the backdrop having the cutouts of MERA NAAM JOKER and SANGAM.
My friend and his guests had to leave as it was already 9.45 pm and deeply satisfied with the evening we still had one complain in our hearts as the film shown was a severely edited version of the original four hour epic missing its two intervals. With the timings kept as 6-10 pm for the show, I was personally expecting to see the complete film (recently released by Shemaroo in the Blue-Ray and DVD format). Nevertheless we didn’t let the fact affect our spirit of celebrations and living the moment to the max said a loving good bye to each other promising to meet up soon.
Completely different kind of audience in the second show : SANGAM.
As I moved back in, the theater was again completely packed for the next show of SANGAM within 15 minutes, but I could easily feel a completely different kind of audience this time coming for the last night show.
Where in MERA NAAM JOKER almost everyone was there to relive their fond memories saying a loving farewell to REGAL, in SANGAM almost 40% of people were just there to have some fun attracted by the media publicity lacking the serious passion. For instance there were people coming in without any tickets as the obliged guests, families coming in just for the sake of an celebrating event, a few locals just walking in without any tickets or hand written slips in their half-pants, young kids questioning the poor conditions, AC and sitting arrangements of the theater and there were even people walking out after an hour or in interval without displaying any personal attachment to either the theater or the film in a rude manner.
Making it worse, the kid sitting at my adjacent scene kept playing a video game on his father’s phone throughout the 3 hours and at times his father did the same too without caring about the film at all, even in the songs. But if that was not all, a group of 2 couples kept laughing at almost every emotional scene of Rajendra Kumar before leaving the film in the mid, finding his mannerism too funny and unusual displaying their own questionable standards.
In short, while sitting amongst such unexpectedly uncaring viewers, for a moment I thought that it would have been better if they had organized only MERA NAAM JOKER in the evening without any second show.
And I seriously felt the same since the film was again being showed in a small square in the center of the screen with a faulty sound too making the dialogues hard to hear and unclear at numerous times. Moreover this was again an edited version of the classic which was ironically the first film to have two intervals in the history of Hindi cinema (many sites wrongly quote MERA NAAM JOKER as the first in their trivia sections). Interestingly the text on the screen said “First intermission” in the screening whereas there was no second intermission at all catching a major error in the DCP or the print/file.
Anyhow, as a die-hard fan of that era I thoroughly enjoyed the film and had to leave the theater with a heavy heart, watching people busy clicking their proud selfies and a few tearing off the posters from the walls too as their ‘take-back-home souvenirs’.
Coming out of the venue I took an auto back home at around 1.30 pm and luckily the driver too was a Hindi film lover sharing his own memories of REGAL from the late 80s. Listening to his valuable shares I once again recalled my childhood days spent in Connaught Place when one of my uncles used to drive ‘a Four-Seater’ on the route from CP to Fountain Chowk (Fuaara) near Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib and I used to sit on the front seat collecting 50 paise and 1 Rupee from the travellers as they got off at their destinations close to REGAL, RIVOLI, ODEON, PLAZA, DELITE, GOLCHA, MOTI and MAJESTIC (all single screen theaters on this particular route).
In this long detailed description of the last two shows at REGAL, I think I forgot introducing my dear elderly friend who was the one man behind the brilliant, life-time idea given to the theater owners. And yet nobody mentioned his name, neither any of the news anchors/writers nor the owners, yet again displaying one of the most common features of show-business ………i.e. missing giving the due credits just like that.
By now many of the readers must be having a fictional image of my dear friend as an energetic, passionate, die-hard lover-follower of Hindi cinema in his mid-30s or early 40s.
But let me surprise you with the astonishing fact that the dear friend of mine is a young at heart veteran, lovingly nourishing his passion like a teenager in his mid-60s, when most of the people don’t really like to make any extra efforts going out of the way affecting their much relaxed routine and daily fixed engagements.
A father figure for me, who also introduced me to many worth-knowing connoisseurs of Hindi cinema and film music, he is Sh. Sundeep Pahwa, a rare personality I luckily met through FB and the one I would love to follow in my 60s continuing with the blessed passion for cinema till the very end.
With many loving thanks to Sundeep Ji for sowing the seeds of a fabulous, unforgettable last evening at REGAL, would love to share a link of a short documentary where you can see him in person too discussing his cherished memories of the past along with the others related to Regal with heartfelt tears in their eyes.
In fact the short film begins itself with the voice of Sh. Sundeep Pahwa singing,
“Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan, Iske Siva Jaana Kahan”
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