Guardians of Shalimar: Mohammad Ubair and Vishal
(Photo: Intifada PB)
‘Haunted’ Shalimar Cinema: A Tragedy Born of Fire, Frozen in Time
“No one is willing to buy it, because of the rumours that there are bad spirits there.”
It’s a hot summer afternoon and Mohammad Ubair and his friend Vishal can be seen lying down on a tattered sofa right at the entrance of the Shalimar Cinema near Ashram Chowk in Delhi. As soon as one enters, Ubair, the watchman, straightens up and takes charge.
What is he watching over you may ask. The answer is, the burnt down rubbles and debris of what was once Delhi’s most happening cinema hall. The Shalimar Cinema, which is said to have been built sometime around 1950s, caught fire about ten years back and has been shut ever since.
On the outside, the iconic cinema hall looks exactly like what it might have looked a few years back but as soon as one enters the main hall, destruction is what meets the eye.
Burnt remains of what once were seats with rubbish strewn all over them is what is left of the cinema hall. Ubair, the watchman says that during one of the shows, someone threw a lighted matchstick which fell on one the curtains near the stage, and soon the entire place caught fire.
“Many people died that night. In a rush to get out, many people fell to their deaths from the gallery and the first floor,” he says.
What is remarkable about the Shalimar Cinema is that even today the place bears testimony of what it used to be. Tangled mess of filmstrips can be seen everywhere especially in what was once the projection room.
One can still see painted mobile numbers of the operators who were once in charge of the projection room. Even their projection schedule remains inscribed on the wall.
The reason for this preserved chaos is the lack of interest and infighting amongst the owners, Naseenuddin and Shamiuddin, says Vishal. “Because of the fire and the slow pace of business, the owners decided to shut down the theatre but did not do anything to clean this site. They left it as it was and so today pigeons, dogs and gamblers have made it their home,” he says.
Also, many constructions workers who work nearby, come and sleep here in what was once the ticket room, says Ubair.
The cinema sold tickets ranging from 5 rupees to 15 rupees.
Hardeep Sigh (50), a shop owner nearby, recalls the days when he used to frequent the theatre. “The tickets were cheap and they ran four shows everyday right from 10 in the morning to midnight,” he says.
“Even though the owners are trying to sell this place, no one is willing to buy it, because there are rumours that there are bad spirits here, so until then the residents in and around the locality pay me around 50 rupees every week to watch over this place at night,” says Ubair.
(Intifada PB is an MA Journalism student at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.)
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