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What I Found Out About A Famous Theatre In Delhi, Lying Abandoned For Over 20 Years

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By Martand Jha:

Naaz cinema, one of the oldest theatres is a thing of the past but a cultural heritage for Delhiites. I got to know about this place while I was interning with The Hindu in February 2013. I was asked by my editor to do some research on this heritage cinema hall, which closed down way back in 1994. Since there was very little information on Google about this place, I decided to pay a visit to this place myself.

When I went to the Jhandewalan area, which is near Karol Bagh, I started asking people in the area about where exactly this place is located. Most of them didn’t have a damn clue about it. Then, some old rickshaw pullers in their 70s told me that they remember the place and that they loved going to the place when they were young. They told me to go opposite the RSS office building.

I went there and found the place deserted where there was a small DLF office, which owns the building as well.

The ’30s saw the opening of talkies like Regal, Rivoli and Plaza in Delhi which targeted an elite audience. These talkies were given a stiff competition by Naaz cinema once it opened in the ’50s, which attracted working class population due to very cheap rates as compared to the cinema halls of Connaught place.

Tickets in those days were just ‘dus annas’ which gradually rose to two and a half rupees in the ’70s, a shopkeeper nearby told me. Patriotic songs like ‘suno suno aye duniya walon hindustan hamara hai’ made the audience jump out of their seats and the chant of ‘once more, once more’ reverberated inside the Naaz.

After Partition, refugees who came to Delhi apparently entered into the business of selling cinema tickets in ‘black’ which was earlier unheard of. One could see tens of ‘dalaals’ outside Naaz during those days and this practice of selling tickets continued for decades, recalled an old man in his 80s, who told me that the place used to be crowded with school going students who used to bunk classes to come here.

Some people told me that one of the workers of Naaz cinema, who was employed there for years was living nearby and he could tell me a lot about this cultural heritage of Delhi which most of us have forgotten or don’t know about.

I met the person (though I don’t recall his name) who informed me that movies like ‘Neel Kamal’, ‘Jewel Thief’, ‘Bluff Master’, ‘Shikar’ and ‘Deewaar’ celebrated their golden jubilee here. The hall generally remained ‘house full’ for the evening shows throughout the week, but on weekends the demands for tickets reached its peak, he remembers. The person told me at length about the history of this cinema hall.

He recalled joyfully that Naaz was a place where families went to enjoy night shows which became its trademark. People from RSS office, situated opposite Naaz, went to watch Marathi movies during the late ’60s and early ’70s, he continued to tell.

During the 1970s, the morning show started with Bhojpuri films to attract the increasing number of immigrants from Bihar and eastern UP, remarks Pradeep Sardana, a seasoned film critic, in reply to my tweet on this topic. The place became a hotspot among the youth especially after 1971, when Bharti College was established just nearby.

Now, more people joined me to tell their experiences and facts about this cinema hall. Young girls used to throng this theatre by bunking their classes which resulted in Naaz becoming a place of attraction among high school and college boys who earlier used to visit the Khanna theatre in Paharganj, an auto-wallah in his 60s told me.

Naaz was doing roaring business and its managers always tried to hold premieres for Bollywood films. Rowdyism outside this theatre was a culture where musclemen, who acted as bouncers as well, used to fight every night for a larger share from the chunk of money collected from selling tickets in black, one of the bystanders added. These fights made police from Paharganj thana visit the place on a regular basis but none of this could discourage even family audiences from coming here.

During the Emergency in 1975, films were censored and a new film which was about to release and was expected to be a smash hit was not allowed here. The film was ‘Aandhi’, starring Sanjeev Kumar and was loosely based on Indira Gandhi’s life. After Emergency, ‘Aandhi’ was released here and it celebrated its silver jubilee. ‘Don’, ‘Kaalia’ and ‘Qurbani’ also ran for weeks here. Naaz continued to show films and the audience continued to enjoy till 1994 after which the show ended at Naaz forever. The last film to be shown here was ‘Laadla’, starring Anil Kapoor, Raveena Tandon and Sridevi, informed the affable old employee who had gone nostalgic by now.

Today, Naaz cinema is owned by DLF, which is running its office inside the cinema complex. Once a cineadda for film lovers, it now looks deserted. According to DLF officials, “the future of Naaz is nil.”

(The article is based purely on the interviews of people living in nearby areas about the cinema hall and primarily from an old-time employee of Naaz cinema.)

Featured image for representation only. Shared by Boris Osipau on Facebook.
Banner image for representation only. Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images.

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