The Shahi Theater is the last surviving single-screen cinema in Shimla, the Himalayan hill station that was the summer refuge of British India.
With its old projector and elegant balcony, the Shahi Theater is the last surviving single-screen cinema in Shimla, the Himalayan hill station that was the summer refuge of British India. .
But like many other movie theaters across the country that were already struggling to stay afloat, the pandemic may be the last mortality of the century-old movie house.
It was originally built as a theater in British times, when the entire colonial administration was detached from the bustling summer heat of the plains for the cooler mountain climate further north.
The current owner Sahil Sharma said his grandfather bought the building and turned it into a cinema after the British left in 1947, at a time when the city’s other three theaters were too expensive for the normal people.
“In those days we still had the British heritage that people couldn’t go at night without good formal clothes,” Sharma told AFP.
“So normal, poor people didn’t have a cinema that they could call their own.”
Shimla was a popular destination in the golden decades after independence and its cinemas would host prime ministers and celebrities while people went to see the latest Bollywood movies.
“I was here in 1972 when the daughter of the Pakistani president saw a movie,” recalls Ashok Kapoor, 69, who started working at the now-closed Ritz cinema as a teenager and went on to become a manager.
It was there, Kapoor says, because elsewhere in Shimla the leaders of India and Pakistan were meeting to ease tensions after a brief conflict between the two countries the year before, during the war of independence. Bangladesh.
Satish Kumar, another old hand who has worked at the Shahi for 50 years, says there is a fast black market for tickets that are used to cater for queues that stretched around the block.
But, he adds, business has been “really bad in recent years.”
Shimla has lost some of its old world charm as the local population has grown and the city has spread across the hills, although the main street, The Mall, retains its colonial-era shop windows.
In recent decades, filmmakers have gone to multiplexes outside the city with their air conditioning, surround sound and a variety of films.
The trend has replicated across the country, with hundreds of old-fashioned single-screen cinemas that, once catering to budget crowds, closed their doors in recent years.
Last year only two Shimla cinemas remained, but when India entered a national coronavirus closure, the Ritz also doubled.
Cinemas were only allowed to reopen last October, but were forced to close again in April after a new, bloody wave of COVID cases that worsened the outbreak of previous year.
“We’re not sure about our post-crown future,” Sharma says, fearing that pandemic audiences have permanently changed their film habits to online streaming.
“We don’t even know if people would still want to come to the movies.”