City Landmark – Chanakya Cinema, 1970-2007


[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Last night, at 9:45 pm, I dreamt I went to Chanakya again. It seemed to me I stood by the box office that sells Rs. 30 front stall tickets, and for a while I could not see the clerk inside for the window was barred to me. Ticketless, I walked towards the glass door. It was locked. I called in my dream to the cinema security guard, and had no answer, and peering closer through the dirty glass I saw that the theater was uninhabited.

No crowd was waiting in the foyer, and the little frames that should have displayed movie posters gaped forlorn. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The path wound away, as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it; the lobby was empty and unkempt. There were no love couples. No lady in sari. No children. No families. No man in the man’s loo. No popcorn-walla in the popcorn counter. It was all dust, cobwebs and silence, none of which I remembered.

The path to the front stall was a thread of its former self, with the red carpet gone. There was no thud of Rs. 30 footsteps stamping through the door to claim the best seats. I felt I was alone inside (one thousand and seventy-nine more people were needed to make for a houseful show). In the eerie quiet, I sniffed for that familiar popcorn smell but in vain. I looked up to see the rich people in the Rs. 80 balcony but it looked abandoned. The air conditioner too was not humming. And projector bulbs were not glowing. I sat down on the chair and listened to its creak as it kneeled back. But I was facing Nothing. There was no screen – that thing of culture and grace where I had witnessed such beautiful moments. Dil Se (7 times), Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (3 times), Devdas (2 times).

Soon, I realized in the dream itself that Chankaya has shut down. I realized that no longer I would come here with my lover. No longer we would wait in a long queue for Rs. 30 tickets. No longer we would be stuck in the car parking. No longer we would order tandoori platter in the Nirula’s (it too has closed). No longer we would see Shahrukh with Coke and popcorn.

Once there was Chankaya, our Chanakya. Now they promise to replace it with a mall and multiplex. The building is to be destroyed. The bricks would fall. The walls would topple. There would be no balcony and no front stall. Time would erase Chanakya from the face of the earth. But it might live on in our memories.

Chanakya Trivia

First movie screened – Mera Naam Joker (in 1970)
Last movie screened – Tare Zameen Par (in 2007)
No. of seats – 1080

[The decision to vacate the hall premises came in the wake of a Supreme Court judgment paving the way for the New Delhi Municipal Council to raze the theatre complex and build a multiplex-cum-mall on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis].

Torn Memories

Glass Door Graffiti

Coke Dreams

Where is the Rs. 30 queue

Miss you Nirula’s

Pointless Arrogance