City Landmark – Siri Fort Auditorium, South Delhi
Out of time.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
When icons fall out of use, what shall we turn them into?
Named after a centuries-old ruin, the iconic Siri Fort Auditorium is lying in ruins, metaphorically speaking. This afternoon, most gates are locked. Entry is forbidden without a prior appointment. An empty water tank is lying forlorn in the middle of a driveway.
Opened in 1982, Siri Fort Auditorium in south Delhi used to be our window to the world cinema. It hosted the international film festivals. The history-minded millennials might decipher the landmark as a kind of ancient Netflix site, the only place then in the city where one could get the chance to experience globally renowned movies (Priya Cinema in Basant Lok screened only the American blockbusters). Desperate cinema fanatics would scheme and plot to get passes for the festival, an impossibility if a film was lucky enough to be tainted with even a whiff of sensational controversy. Indeed, memorialising the subculture of Capital’s film festivals in one of her Hindustan Times columns, critic Anupama Chopra recalls “the madness around the Maya Memsaab screening in 1993—it felt like Siri Fort might collapse under the weight of the rushing crowds.”
Today, Siri Fort has fallen as subdued as a cemetery (though some offices inside are open). It hasn’t hosted a single screening, or any other event, since the pandemic—a staffer confirms. One wonders if the auditorium can ever regain its exclusivity. Why would you any longer brave the traffic to Siri Fort to watch an Iranian art house hit when it is so easy to curate personalised international film fest on your mobile phone screen.
This sunny afternoon, despite its gleaming white facade and clipped lawns, the sprawling complex feels deserted. The pavement outside is littered with rotting leaves. The fences are barely holding onto signages of the past—“Eatables, drinks, helmets, briefcases and cameras not allowed inside the auditorium.” A faded blue board explains that Gate 1 is for VIPs/Stars/ Artists and Gate 2 is for the rest. (A hawker is lying flat in front of this board, her eyes closed. She must be asleep.)
One winter evening, Siri Fort Auditorium was packed with a great number of people. Author Dan Brown, of the best selling Da Vinci Code, was to give a lecture on ‘Codes, Science and Religion’. As the celebrity novelist appeared on the stage, the entire auditorium 1 (full capacity: 1,865 seats) broke into a thundering applause. The year was 2014. That evening now looks as far removed as 1914.
The Jurassic Netflix