Motorists drive past the colonial era Regal Theatre in New Delhi, India. Photo: AP

‘End of an era’: New Delhi’s iconic Regal cinema shuts down after 85 years to make way for a multiplex

A decision to shut the cinema was prompted by a craze for multi-screen cinemas in India

From Bollywood superstars to political heavyweights, the Regal cinema hosted some of India’s biggest names over more than eight decades.

But with nostalgic cinema-goers singing their way to the exits after a final showing of a Bollywood classic, the iconic New Delhi cinema has closed its doors to make way for a multiplex.

“It’s the end of an era. It’s very sad,” said Nanak, who had worked at the cinema since 1979. Nanak, whose grandfather and father were part of the Regal’s management team in the 1950s and ‘60s, uses one name.

elderly Indians arrive to watch the last movie screening at Regal Theatre. photo; AP

With its corridors studded with black-and-white images of Bollywood stars such as Nargis, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, the magic of a bygone era was visible throughout the cinema.

For its final screening, the Regal showed Sangam, or Union of Two Hearts, on Thursday night in a tribute to producer-director Kapoor, Bollywood’s biggest showman, who premiered his films at the cinema from the 1950s to the ‘70s.

Overview of the colonial era Regal Theatre. Photo: AP

Around 600 film buffs cheered the 1964 Bollywood classic at the final screening. Some young movie lovers came with their parents and grandparents, and many were singing the film’s songs as they left the cinema.

“There was nostalgia,” said Sudhir Dutta, 75, recalling that he had seen A Tale of Two Cities in 1958 in his first visit to the Regal.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, also used to watch movies there, said Bhoop Singh, a cinema executive.

Ramesh Kumar Saha, a technician in a projection room for the last 22 years. Photo: AP

The Regal opened in 1932, built by Sobha Singh, an Indian civil contractor and property owner. At first, the cinema hosted mainly Indian stage shows. Then came performances by Western classical musical artists, Russian ballets and British theatre groups.

Finally, films were shown. The 1931 Bollywood film Alam Ara, the first Indian movie with sound, was the first Hindi film screened at the Regal.

Empty seats before the final movie screening at Regal Theatre. Photo: AP

The cinema, part of an 84-year-old shopping hub known as Connaught Place, is in one of the main commercial areas of New Delhi, built during British colonial rule.

A decision to shut the theatre was prompted by a craze for multi-screen cinemas in India. Also, the recent caving in of portions of the roofs of two buildings in the area raised concerns about the Regal’s safety.

Building a multiplex is a better option than renovating such an old building, Bhoop Singh said, adding, “We may resume screening movies in the multiplex within two years.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: ‘End of an era’ as iconic cinema closes