The Shahi Theatre is the last surviving single-screen cinema in the Himalayas station Shimla, and was once a summer resort in British India.
The Shahi Theater has an ancient buzzing projector and an elegant balcony. It is the last surviving single-screen cinema in Shimla. The Himalayas Station was once a summer resort in British India.
But like many other movie theaters across the country that were once bustling but are already struggling to make ends meet, this pandemic may be the last death knell of this century-old movie theater.
It was originally built as a theater in the British era, when the entire colonial government would be evacuated from the scorching heat of the plains to adapt to the cooler mountainous climate further north.
The current owner, Sahil Sharma, said that after the British left in 1947, his grandfather bought the building and turned it into a movie theater. At that time, the other three theaters in the town were open to ordinary people. It’s too expensive.
Sharma told Agence France-Presse: “In those days, we still retained the British tradition that people could not walk around without wearing formal clothes at night.
“So ordinary people and poor people don’t have their own cinema.”
In the golden decade after independence, Shimla was a popular destination, and when people flocked to watch the latest Bollywood movies, its cinemas would host prime ministers and celebrities.
“In 1972, when the daughter of the President of Pakistan was watching a movie, I was here,” recalls the 69-year-old Ashok Kapoor, who started working at the closed Ritz Cinemas as a teenager and was promoted manager.
Kapoor said she was there because the leaders of India and Pakistan met elsewhere in Simla during the Bangladesh War of Independence the previous year to ease tensions after the brief conflict between the two countries.
Satish Kumar, another veteran who has worked in Shahi for 50 years, said that an active black market ticket office was used to meet the demand for long lines around the block.
However, he added that the business “has been very bad in the past few years.”
With the growth of the local population and the spread of towns, Shimla has lost some of its old world charm, although the main street-the shopping mall-retains its colonial-era storefronts.
In recent decades, movie theater audiences have moved to multi-hall theaters outside the city, where there are air-conditioning, surround sound and more movie options.
This trend has been replicated across the country, with hundreds of outdated single-screen cinemas closing their doors in recent years, once catering to people with limited budgets.
There were only two Simla cinemas left last year, but when India entered the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Liz also went bankrupt.
The cinema was only allowed to reopen in October last year, but was forced to close again after a new wave of COVID cases dwarfed last year’s outbreak.
“We are not sure about the future after the epidemic,” Sharma said, worried that viewers living at home due to the pandemic will permanently switch their movie habits to online streaming.
“We don’t even know if people still want to come to the cinema.”