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Delite Cinema: A Delhi landmark with roots in Calcutta

Several of Delite’s contemporary single-screen cinemas — Jubilee, Golcha, and Novelty — have either shut down or are near shutting down since the 1990s.

delite cinema delhi
The wall of the Walled City in Daryaganj was demolished to make way for Delite, which opened with 1,100 seats. (IE)

Delite Cinema is intertwined with the history of theatres in Delhi. The theatre was set up by Brij Mohan Lal Raizada after a fond cinema experience in Kolkata (then Calcutta) convinced him to enter the business. At that time, Raizada ran an automobile business and lived inside the Walled City. Piyush Raizada, his son, said Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had expressed a desire for more Indian-made landmarks in the National Capital following Independence. Nehru’s call gave Raizada the opportunity he was waiting for. He bought a a plot of land on the periphery of Old Delhi in an auction for Rs 6 lakh. The wall of the Walled City in Daryaganj was demolished to make way for Delite, which opened with 1,100 seats. Along with Liberty, Mohini, Payal, and Naaz, Delite was among the first theatres to be set up after Independence in Delhi.

Delite opened with Raj Kapoor’s Angarey in 1954. Piyush said about the grand opening on the first day of the first show that thousands were waiting outside the hall. The film was promoted with fanfare through loudspeaker announcements.

Soon after, Delite became one of the biggest names for cinema goers. Its architecture was marked by tall columns and majestic pillars that made it stand out.

Like most other cinemas of the time, Delite hosted both cinema and live performances. Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatre performed his plays here and he and his family lived on the fourth floor of the building, Piyush Raizada told IE.

However, it hasn’t always been easy for Delite. Literary critic and social commentator Ziya Us Salam, the author of Delhi: 4 Shows – Talkies of Yesteryear, told IE that Delite was considered a downtown cinema at that time. He said there were eight big cinemas in Delhi at that time — four in New Delhi’s Connaught Place (Plaza, Regal, Odeon, and Rivoli) — and four in Old Delhi (Ritz, Golcha, Majestic, and Moti). Delite was not among the A-grade cinemas of the time. This was partly because it was neither fully in New Delhi nor in Old Delhi, Salam said.

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Some of Delite’s most popular releases in its first decades included Waqt (1965), Humraaz (1967), Vandna (1975), Haadsa and Qayamat (both 1983), and Khalnayak (1993). Salam said over the years, the theatre created a niche for itself by playing regional films — Bengali films were particularly popular. Suchitra Sen’s Megh Kalo (1970), initially booked for a week, ran for eight weeks, he said.

Delite also found popularity among Indian politicians. Dr Rajendra Prasad, Indira Gandhi, Nehru, and Morarji Desai visited the theatre several times. Rajkumar Mehrotra, the manager of Delite for 42 years, said LK Advani watched at least 10 films there.

PATRIOTISM

Delite stood out during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. Cinemas in the city cancelled their evening and night at the time following instructions to switch off their lights. Delite, however, played the latest news from the warfront during regular shows. Salam said when Upasana was released at the height of the war in 1971, Delite aired news broadcasts in the beginning and end of the film. The cinema made provisions for two intervals so that three news updates could be given out.

Salam also said cinema had a different appeal in Delhi when compared with Kolkata or Mumbai in the decades after Independence. Bombay had fanfare and style, Kolkata was cerebral or low key. Delhi, however, celebrated cinema, Salam said, adding that the best Hindi film-makers would withhold a release if a theatre of their choice in Delhi was not available.

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Several of Delite’s contemporary single-screen cinemas — Jubilee, Golcha, and Novelty — have either shut down or are near shutting down since the 1990s. Delite, however, managed to thrive due to the Raizadas’ investment in expansion and technology.

In 1994, following the release of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, families returned to the cinemas. The film completed a jubilee run at Delite. It was during this time that the owners overhauled the cinema with fresh seating, improved air-conditioning, and a new cafeteria.

Multiplexes also pose another challenge for the cinema. Mehrotra said the emergence of multiplexes had made single-screen theatre owners realise that it would have to provide the same quality experience. De added Delite provided facilities at a par with multiplexes but at much lower prices.

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