Makeshift cinema under a bridge provides Bollywood escape for Delhi’s poor

Bridge’s rusty floor serves as the roof, crematorium rags as curtains, and the river breeze as air conditioning at cinema for Indian capital’s toiling masses that charges HK$1 a film

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2016, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2016, 12:58pm

A makeshift cinema hall under a 140-year-old bridge in New Delhi is allowing poor rickshaw pullers and migrant labourers in the Indian capital to escape their daily hardships and the sweltering heat into a world of Bollywood song, dance and romance.

With the rusty iron floor of the bridge as its ceiling and some old rags acquired on the cheap from a nearby crematorium serving as curtains and floor mats, the cinema shows four films a day.

Organisers pooled their savings to rent an old TV set and video compact disc player, and charge 10 rupees (HK$1.20) admission – a hundredth of the price of entry at Delhi’s fanciest cinemas.

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Mohammad Noor Islam, a junk dealer and one of the regulars at the cinema under the double-decker bridge over the Yamuna river, said it helps to keep them away from vices like drugs and gambling.

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“Films are much better. Many men get hooked on gambling, drugs and alcohol and they pass their time by drinking or smoking,” he says. “But some of us, who do not indulge in these vices, come here and watch films.”

“We are addicted to films,” adds Islam, who came to Delhi from the eastern state of West Bengal nearly four decades ago as a 10-year-old boy.

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The dark and breezy interior of the cinema hall provides relief for daily labourers from their jobs on the city’s sweltering streets, where temperatures have soared as high as 47 Celsius this month.

“When we come to watch films, they help us forget our problems. I was tense earlier but when I sat down to watch the film I felt my tension easing,” said Manoj Kumar, a rickshaw puller from Bihar.

After dark, the cinema hall becomes a night shelter, providing comfort in the scorching heat.

Ishfaq, one of the cinema’s co-founders, runs a small food stall nearby. He says it is an excellent place for people to unwind after hours of hard labour.

“The place is wide and open, there is a cold and pleasant breeze here because it is so close to the river Yamuna - it feels like an air conditioner is on,” said Ishfaq, who offers meals for 5-10 rupees.

On an average day, about a 100 people use the cinema hall to watch films, rest and catch up on some sleep. Ishfaq worries that the cinema, which operates illegally, might be shut down by the authorities.