One of the oldest cinema houses of Punjab, which once attracted more cinemagoers from neighbouring Pakistan, has been shut down and its heritage property put on sale.
The cinema, Dhani Ram Theatre, popular as Raja Talkies, was constructed in this border town in 1930.
Over the years, the cinema hall weathered many a storm in its lifetime, including high entertainment tax and the influx of satellite channels. But the declining crowds and the high cost of maintenance has forced the owners to finally shut it down.
Subhash Kalia, who belongs to the family that owned Raja Talkies, said the cinema hall lost its audience owing to the advent of multiplexes and movies on the internet.
“In cities, most of the cinema houses have been converted into multiplexes. In this border town, there is not much scope of doing brisk business but that requires a huge investment. So, we have decided to lay off the property,” Kalia added.
Octogenarian Durga Prasad recalled the bond that Indian cinema was building between the neighbour nations.
“There was a time when a large number of people from Pakistan used to come here, especially on Sundays and holidays. After shopping or doing business, they loved to watch movies of stars like Nargis, Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand,” he told IANS.
Old-timers recall that Raja Talkies used to get cinemagoers from Pakistan via the Hussainiwala check post till trade between both nations was open, up to the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Pakistanis were fond of Hindi movies and would come in droves to watch movies in the cinema hall then.
At that time, like Raja Talkies, other three cinema houses — Joshi Palace, Shimla Talkies and Amar Talkies — used to do brisk business.
After the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971, the Hussainiwala check post, 11 km away from here, was closed for the traders from Pakistan.
The strategically important Hussainiwala bridge was blown up during the 1971 war to stop advancing armoured units of the enemy. It was reconstructed and thrown open to the public on August 12, 2018, by the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Another town old-timer, Agya Ram Sharma, recalled that these theatres were also popular for screening English movies every Sunday which attracted a big audience of Army officers and their families stationed nearby.
The theatres also used to screen Pakistani dramas and family soaps, quite a hit among the Indian audience till the early 1980s, he added.
While plans for the theatre are not known, locals feel emotional about the local landmark that is going to be lost forever.
They have fond memories of going to the theatre to watch movies which were once a regular affair.