The last single-screen theatre in CP, which held its final show on Thursday, opened with much aplomb and fanfare in 1932.
New Delhi: With multiplexes scripting the revolution, Regal was the last man standing in Connaught Place’s cinematic history. Other iconic theatres in Connaught Place — Odeon, Plaza and Rivoli have already faded into history and become faceless, impersonal multiplexes. Regal, however, withstood the winds of change longest and hardest before finally giving way to the inevitable. The last single-screen theatre in CP, which held its final show on Thursday, opened with much aplomb and fanfare in 1932. Newspaper reports dating back to that time called Regal “New Delhi’s biggest and grandest theatre” and a “venue for ballets, plays talkies”. Gone with Wind, which swept the Oscars had its India premiere at Regal in 1940.
There was a time when Regal loomed large over its rivals. When the other halls stuck to Hollywood films, Regal was the only cinema hall in CP to start showing Hindi
films. I remember a rainy day, when I lied to my parents and slipped away to Regal to watch the seductive Zeenat Aman frolicking in water and singing Bhor Bhayee Pan Ghat pe in Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram.
Slowly, yet steadily the iconic theatre began to walk towards the sunset. Sings of
slow decay began to engulf the “biggest and grandest theatre”. While cinema halls like Chanakya, Archana, Anupam moved ahead with their advanced technology, comfortable seats and upgraded ambience, Regal stoically refused to change. It remained stuck in a sort of time-warp. And gradually it turned into a shadow of its former self.
During our student days, Chanakya Cinema was where you took your girlfriend and Regal was where you went with your friends when you were near-broke. The last time I went to Regal was in 1982 to watch Amitabh Bachchan starrer Satte pe Satta. Seats were broken and the theatre was nearly empty.
A newspaper report quoted the gatekeeper cum ticket-checker, Vijay Singh as saying: “The seats are broken, the sound system is outdated and murals on the walls are falling apart. In the absence of regular maintenance, things have grown worse. That’s why people have stopped coming.” Upkeep and maintenance was so shabby that gradually the letter “G” disappeared and Regal became “RE AL”.
Regal was conceived by Sir Sobha Singh and designed by Walter Sykes George, the British architect who also designed St Stephen’s College. It had started as a venue for dramatic performances from English and Russian theatre groups.
Despite falling behind in the race to change with times Regal remained one of the few theatres that screened arthouse cinema. I remember watching Shyam Benegal’s Manthan and Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi in Regal. After watching Shatranj Ke Khiladi, I took an auto from outside Regal. The auto driver had also come out after watching the film but the Ray masterpiece didn’t quite cut it with him. During the ride he said: “Saab mere ko toh Dharam Veer better laga. Woh bhi to history tha. Yeh kuchch jama nahi.”
It may be a curtain call for Regal yet, for older Delhiites walking past that road in CP will always bring back a memory, a scene, a song... Quite like the song in Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker that I am reminded of now: Ji chahen jab hum ko awaz don, hum hain wahin hum the jahan.