Mumbai cinema plays same Shah Rukh Khan movie — everyday for 19 years
It’s a hot morning in Mumbai and the tired-looking edifice of the city’s five-decade-old Maratha Mandir cinema in Central Mumbai looms over the traffic-jammed streets. The ticket counter already has people queuing — but it’s not for Bang Bang!, the latest blockbuster starring Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif.
They are here to watch Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (DDLJ) — which was released on October 25, 1995 and has been running daily at the cinema ever since. Starring Shah Rukh Khan — who was then only a few films old — and Kajol, the romantic drama smashed box office records and went on to achieve a cult status.
A couple of weeks ago, Indian media reported that the movie, then in its 990th week, would soon end its glorious run at the cinema, but the management of Maratha Mandir quickly issued a denial. DDLJ will continue its uninterrupted 19-year run and is now headed towards its 1,000th week, which comes up on Friday, December 12.
Maratha Mandir draws a steady stream of DDLJ fans every day, but the theatre hasn’t changed much in the 19 years since it first showed the film.
The decor is outdated, with wood-panelled interiors and wobbly chandeliers, all incongruously coupled with new security screens, marble floors and plush seats. The walls are mounted with old, classic film posters in Perspex boxes, and a dusty glass cabinet proudly displays the film’s 500th-week trophy.
While Maratha Mandir may not be able to compete with more popular single-screen theatres in Mumbai — such as the glitzy Regal and Eros — what draws the crowds is the irresistible combination of blockbuster masala flick and low prices.
Tickets cost as little as they did in the 90s — 20 rupees (Dh1). (Other cinemas price theirs from 100 rupees.) And at the small concessions stand, popcorn is 20 rupees a bag, a plate of samosas is 30 rupees, and a tenner buys you a bottle of soda pop.
The 1,000-seat theatre serves about 200 people per show on weekdays and up to 700 on weekends. But it’s always a full house on public holidays, a time when DDLJ often does better business than the new releases, and the recently celebrated Eid Al Adha was no exception.
The crowd here to watch DDLJ the weekday morning I visit is a mixed bag. There are porters from the nearby railway station and bus depot; several couples on dates; a few residents from the mostly middle-class neighbourhood; and groups of university students skiving off classes.
“I come in here during my midday break sometimes,” says Shankar Singh, a local electrician, who’s standing in line for his ticket. “It’s a great way to chill.”
Also in the queue is a family with bags and suitcases at their feet. The father, Rafiq Zaidi, explains: “We came to Mumbai to spend Eid with our relatives and were on our way back, but the train has been delayed by several hours so we decided to spend our time watching the film.”
A not-for-profit venture
But audience contentment comes at a cost, one that’s shared by Yash Raj Films (YRF), DDLJ’s production house, and Maratha Mandir. The film makes money, but not that much.
“Every month, we sit with the YRF team and balance the figures,” says the manager Manoj Desai. “But DDLJ is too special for the screenings to be profit-driven, and we’ll continue showing it regardless of the earnings or expenses.”
He refuses to reveal the events planned for the film’s 1,000th week but, before that celebration, the cinema has to prepare for the launch of Shah Rukh Khan’s robbery drama Happy New Year, out in India on Friday (it opens on Thursday in the UAE).
Desai proudly tells me that the Bollywood star graciously took time out of his busy schedule last year to visit the cinema and promote his film Chennai Express, and will make an appearance this year, too.
“Shah Rukh was here for Chennai Express with [the director] Rohit Shetty in 2013,” he says. “A crazy mob filled up the main road in front of the cinema, stalling traffic for hours. It’s going to be the same when he returns to promote Happy New Year. We can’t wait.”