City Walk – Golcha Cinema, Old Delhi
World of a street.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Despite being a mere courtesan, Anarkali dares Emperor Akbar with a spunky dance. The lyrics of the song are so seditious that the audience get up from their seat and start to clap. It is 2010. Golcha cinema, in Daryaganj, is screening the digitally coloured version of the classic Mughal-e-Azam.
Today, it all feels as unsubstantial as a dream.
The single-screen hall shut down six years ago (last movie screened was Kahani 2). This afternoon, in front of the shuttered lobby, the venerable Ajay Veer is running his stall of eye glasses — his right foot is bandaged. A young barefoot man is lying asleep outside another shuttered door. One of the doors though is partly open, but a guard is sitting outside, on a chair.
The cinema takes its name from the family that ran it, and that still runs a cinema of the same name in Jaipur, according to author Ziya us Salam, a walking encyclopaedia on Delhi theatres. Golcha came up in 1954. Before that a haveli stood on its site, he says.
With its pink edifice facing Netaji Subhash Road, the landmark is like a radioactive atom that continues to enjoy a life on its long path to decay. The Walled City commuters often tell the rickshaw puller to take them to “Golcha,” as if they were going for a matinee. Of course, they are visiting the places around it. The theatre is now a ghost of its recent past. The street-facing glass windows that would be plastered with movie posters are crammed with local fliers advertising “one to 30 lakh rupee loan”, and “herbal gel treatment for cockroaches.” There’s also a missing person’s notice for an 80-year-old woman.
One of the rituals of a complete Golcha experience was to have chhole bhathure from Mehta’s (since 1973), an eatery functioning out of a corner of the cinema building. It continues to be alive, with the cooks deep-frying the bhathure almost on the pave.
The theatre’s south-side wall, running along a bylane, is marked with the box office window for the front stall. You feel as if the clerk might be sitting behind. The gaps through an adjacent grill show a passageway littered with broken chairs. The lane ends into a vacant lot, identified by a rusting board as Golcha Cinema Parking. It has overgrown grass and an upturned water tank.
This way to Golcha