Come, fall in love
I first encountered the 52-year-old Maratha Mandir movie theater while I was on one of my walks to explore Mumbai. Being new to the city, I do this often. It was just a casual walk down the lanes of the city when I saw a huge billboard promoting a film outside the cinema. The billboard proudly advertised it as the longest-playing film in Indian history.
The film “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride), starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, is a simple romantic film shot in Europe and India, where a boy meets a girl and falls in love with her – girl is about to get married in India – boy takes the journey from Europe to India to win her over.
I still remember when the film was released in 1995, it became an instant hit amongst the youth. Fifteen years down the line it’s unthinkable that people still love to watch it and in a cinema to boot!
At Maratha Mandir, it was the watchman who first told me that DDLJ, as the film is popularly known, still runs to a full house in the 1000-plus-seats cinema. I, of course, didn’t believe him until I met Manoj Desai, the cinema’s executive director. He invited me to watch the film, promising it would answer all my questions. He asked his manager to reserve a seat for me, as on Sundays the film is usually sold out. He said it was the first time in the history of Maratha Mandir he was allowing someone to shoot inside the ‘heart’ of the theater — the projection room.
On the day of my shoot, I arrived an hour before the ticket window was to open…and there was already a long line waiting to get inside. There were young men, old men, women, children…all equally keen to catch a glimpse of the iconic Bollywood film.
Among them was Ramlal, a daily wage laborer who works during the nights. He remembers all the dialogues of DDLJ … he has seen it more than 200 times! The cinema provides him with entertainment and a comfortable place to sleep after a hard day’s work for just $0.40.
Inside the cinema, it was a completely different world. I met Jagjivan Maru, the 60-year-old chief projectionist, who was has been working at Maratha Mandir for the last 40 years. He has been watching DDLJ for the last 15 years and hasn’t got bored of it. In fact, he still personally loads the film in the projector room.
Of course, the best of my shoot was yet to come. And that happened when the film started. Suddenly there was whistling and clapping from all sides. Audiences sat with their legs up on the seats, even fell asleep for some time, but never missed an opportunity to say aloud Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogues or cat call at the romantic scenes. No one seemed to be distracted by my photography. In fact, for some time, I was engrossed in the film too!
When the film finished after more than there hours, there were those that were still asleep or lost in the world of make-believe. The guards had to come and wake them up.
The 3 hour ‘air-conditioned dream’ for those like Ramlal may have been over for the time being but, not for long as the cinema management hasn’t any plans to stop screening the dream called ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’.