Dhaka, Bangladesh
Narrative of a magical time

Narrative of a magical time

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there existed those distilleries of pleasure; cinema halls that had just four shows a day. Those were the places that produced dazzling lights and images on screens fed by rivers of film, which spun through complex spinning wheels and whirring cogs. The projectionist, whose artistry unfurled the magic, was the most important man in these hallowed halls. Those were the spaces and places that shaped our childhood dreams and stitched people of diverse backgrounds together in one darkened universe. Those were also the places that film makers and actors were petrified of. One show could either make you into a king or hurl you into disgraced oblivion. If you wanted to see a moving image, the only place was here. As you may have guessed by now, this was in an age long before the computer took over our visual world, and replaced the human projectionist with the digital machine. Award-winning critic Ziya Us Salam's book Delhi 4 Shows celebrates the narrative of this magical time, before the digital age truly hit us and demystified the moving image. But all outward journeys are actually inward journeys. And as I flipped through the pages, which is a work of love from a cinema buff, it took me on my own inward journey, hurtling me back in time and space to June 25, 1983, when my film Arth was released in the prestigious Plaza cinema hall in Connaught Place, New Delhi. That was the day that India won the World Cup in cricket. It was also the day that my life took a U-turn. My cinematic career was resurrected in one day, after four dismal flops, and my entire life changed forever. How can I ever forget that day… I drove up to the Plaza Cinema that morning full of dread. With me was my Delhi distributor Raj Chopra, the man who had taken the gamble to back this very non-conformist tale of extra-marital love sourced from my own wounds. Even before we got down from the car, Chopra's face lit up, and he said two magical words to me: "house full." And when I looked in his direction, I saw what filmmakers all over the world long to see and will always long to see… a sea of people thronging the entrance waiting for the doors to open and a glittering board with the words HOUSE FULL dazzling in the noon sunlight. As we made our way through the crowd to watch the first day first show with the audience, Chopra uttered a prophetic line: "The film that is house full on the first day first show in Plaza Connaught Place is a film that nothing on earth can stop. Let me tell you your film is a hit even before I see the titles rolling." As I write these words 32 years later, and look around my opulent house, in the Beverly Hills of Mumbai, the capital of dreams, I cannot but bow my head in gratitude to that audience who thronged that shrine called Plaza on the first day first show. That was the place that gave birth to me, the filmmaker and on which the first brick of this edifice called Mahesh Bhatt was laid. Thank you, Ziya, for hurling me back into the dark womb of Plaza in Connaught Place. I feel twice born. Had it not been for Delhi 4 Shows, I would not have embarked on this incredible journey and re-lived my life once more. I am certain this book will have a similar effect on all those who have such a journey to take, and will reveal the magic of that time when just four shows a day could make you or break you.

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