56 years old today , she was very much the new heart throb on the block then , very stylish and so much the Delhi Diva. Hosted almost all the gorgeous Hollywood superstars who came to her city . We college students loved her chutzpah and were eager to be seen in her vicinity . Some of that style maybe rubbed off on us too. Not just Hollywood stars but those who later came to be known as Bollywood stars too , glowed in her glory . She changed the face of Paharganj with her svelte avatar . Her name was Sheila , and a couple of weeks ago she gracefully and quietly made her exit from the landscape of the city that for more than half a century had been her home and to which she had added so much panache and style .
Sheila , of the 70 mm screen fame, recently brought down her last curtain , and screened her last film. Like Regal had, in Connaught Place , a few weeks earlier .
Having grown up in the Delhi of the 60s , and left it in the 70s , it is unimaginable to think of the city without these landmarks . Regal , Plaza and Odeon in Connaught Place and then the lady come lately , Shiela , in Paharganj . Of course later there were other cinema houses, (couldn't give them the stately title of Theatre ) like Sapna , Archana , Priya and even Chanakya , but these grand ones were different .
And Shiela was the one that stood out , even amongst those grand ones - the modern one .
Those were the days when going to see a film was the highlight of the month . Even after joining college, a hard fought and won treat . I could never not tell Ma and go see a film . Because then after seeing it I couldn't tell her all about it right ? And that re telling and sharing was, for me , the most fun part of going to see a film . So in my home, one film a month was allowed . And so one also had to make sure it was a treat well chosen and well planned . And in those days going to see a film was such an orchestrated exercise in itself . Booking the tickets , hoping they were available of course and with the ' approved ' company / friends . Then the wait , counting the days and hours and praying no calamity would cause the plan to fall through . Like no public figure's passing that would send the city into mourning ( yes , cinemas would shut down for a week ) , no rain , no any other calamity , you know what I mean . Of course you don't , today's child . You who have Netflix on your finger tips and a multitude of multiplexes and devices at your disposal and maybe more indulgent mothers !!
Regal was where we would go to when we were very young for those very rare and occasional morning shows with parents and grandparents - Tamil and Malayalam films . Really GOOD ones or Mythologicals . And Regal was also where , as we grew a little older , we siblings would go watch films every once in a while . Anupama with my sister ( I was a little upset then that the B&W Anupama was my lot instead of the bright and colourful and more popularly promoted Milan-not now though ) Around the World in 8 Dollars with my brother ( he I am sure only accompanied me because of the West Indies Cricket segment in it ) There would also be the occasional films shown at the Sports Stadium cinema simply called The Stadium . I remember being enthralled by Cliff Richards' Summer Holiday and The Young Ones . And oh, Cantinflos' Pepe we had to forgo when Pandit Nehru passed away on the day of our show.
These were 'safe' locations .
The only two times I have been to Old Delhi to see a film was under very careful chaperoning . The first was under our English teacher Mr Katyal who took the Drama Team to see Julius Caesar in preparation for the play we were putting up that year ( 1968 , and I was Julius Caesar) . This was at Golcha and primarily to help us get our costumes and dialogue delivery right .
The second was to Delite , at Asaf Ali Road I think and dear cousin Samban it was who put my younger brother Raja behind him as pillion rider and moi into the side car of his motorcycle. And we went to watch Jawani Diwani . Oh what a ride that was, both to the theatre and in the theatre !!
No our glamorous Sheila was not a safe location for a theatre . I mean , West Kidwai Nagar to Paharganj ? No direct bus and not near the college and not even Connaught Place the farthest one could venture from home . So it took all our combined persuasive skills , mine and Chandra's to get our respective mothers' Ok girls , you can go !!!
It was a hot summer June afternoon and we had won permission for the Matinee Show at Sheila - the film , Sunil Dutt's Reshma aur Shera . I adored Sunil Dutt and Rajasthan and everything about that part of our land fascinated me and called out to the incurable romantic in me and I was in love with the songs and the ' Radio Programme' of the film on air had me enthralled . The Radio Programme was the 15 minute Radio Trailer of a film . And in those days , listening to one was almost as good as seeing the film . Almost . There would be snatches of songs and scenes / dialogues and Amin Sayani's honeyed voice enticing you to go watch the film as he built up the suspense .
Most of the time one made do with the vicarious listening. Some films you knew you would brave an arm and a leg and Ma's censure for . Reshma aur Shera was one of those and Paharganj was one mountain of an obstacle we said will scale and overcome .
And was it worth it all . What a canvas and what a production this film was . The grandeur and the scope , the casting and acting , the colours , the music , the power of the emotions - a powerful tale of love and revenge , family bonding and family feud . It had it all ! Till today I'm confounded that the film did not do well at the Box Office . But that's the Box Office . So fickle . So cruel .
The film ends with this colossal dust storm that buries along with the ill fated Reshma and Shera all their dreams and hopes , all thoughts of love and forgiveness and leaves you exposed to the bigotry and hatred that still
seems to fuel the world we live in . Till today , sadly. We got up from our seats, wet eyed and heavy hearted - a tragedy of epic dimensions had just unfolded before those eyes. And we were two shaken young girls who only wanted to get back to our safe homes , in the bosom of a loving family where no one wanted to kill and destroy each other . The film had been so very powerful .
We stepped out of Sheila and it was like we had stepped right back into the film . Anyone who has lived thorough Delhi summers ( well, I don't know about now but then , yes ) will know what a summer Dust Storm is all about and there we had one swirling all around us right there. It was Reshma aur Shera Part 2 . Fine grains of sand flew about us fanned by the ferocious winds and finding their sharp, piercing way into our tightly shut eyes , into our clenched mouths and up our nostrils . We held on tight to each other and waited for the storm to ebb a bit . It did of course but only when the heavens opened up and the cool and cleansing rain began to beat down upon us.
Rain or sand ? I guess it was rain because the sand had settled down . It was well past six in the evening and of course public transportation had taken a toss and we would have been happy to even find a camel to take us home that's how bad the scene was .
DTC was notorious those days and the even more notorious ( as we have sadly come to know about them now) private buses were not yet unleashed on the Delhi streets then and we of course had bravely taken a scooter ( autos were called scooters those days ) to get to Sheila . There was nothing on the roads whatsoever that would take us South Delhi wards now. It was raining and the usually long and bright summer evening unusually struck short and oh so dark .
I for one knew we were going to be so late home , that is, if we reached at all , and no enthusiastic and emotive retelling of the tale of the doomed Reshma and Shera was going to save me from the wrath of Ma.
We began walking. We got soaked in the first two minutes . We kept under the trees. Which was stupid because they deposited chunks of water on us from their sodden leaves every time one gust of wind shook them . Like a long haired banshee drying her tresses.
We walked past known and unknown Delhi landmarks . I remember stopping at the beautifully columned entrance of the Max Mueller Bhavan taking for a while shelter from the storm ( no I had not heard the Bob Dylan gem then , in fact not even heard of him , Heaven forgive me that trespass ) . We moved on fearing getting more delayed . Then Chandra had a brain wave . Her father was in the IFS , the Indian Foreign Service and she knew of the new Multi Storied ( as we called high rises those days in Delhi ) quarters where the External Affairs Officers were housed and she knew a family there . Like a pair of drenched sparrows we finally got there and I remember we somehow dried up as best as we could and praise the Lord , called up our homes and assured respective Moms that we were safe and well, almost dry and in respectable shelter. No cell phones then , remember ?
We eventually got home ...very late . Our mothers so relieved to have us there . I don't remember being chastised or being met with any anger . But this was one evening I will never forget . And the one film at Sheila I will always remember .