I was already wide awake when Mohan opened the gate this morning. I haven’t slept a wink. A long sleep lies ahead of me. Like a yesteryear’s star, my name will fade from memory. I leave behind a legacy, remembered only in the yellowing tickets stuffed between pages of hardcovers. Maybe I shall live again in the fleeting memories of old lovers who once had held hands, seated in my lap.
I was born royalty, built by and fit for the monarch. Regal. I loved the name. I have led a eventful life. Mirrors adorned me. Bollywood royalty pampered me. The colonial rulers, for what it’s worth, made me a celebrity at par with those I housed.
My stardom was infectious. Connaught place bloomed. The Cellar? Oh, the discotheque! I always thought I was more entertaining, to be honest. You know, deep down in my heart, I believe they brought it because I was here. After all, the songs I introduced them to can only be played on loop under flashy lights. The gramophone was long dead.
There were the plays! Oh, how much I loved the performances. They put their heart and soul, they made me a God. I was not just brick and mortar, nor was I just plain cushion seats and the silver screen. I was the stage. I was the host.
In my youth, I was a rebel. Fire destroys everything in its path, so they say. The Fire that engulfed me, ignited a movement. I learn that we aren’t supposed to talk about it any more, but it gave me a newfound sense of purpose. I knew that I am an iconic landmark, but now I will also be remembered for something greater.
When age first caught up with me, I was still at the top. I was proud of my royalty. It was in the later years that I began to feel jealous. Maratha Mandir? I still can’t believe that there is no talk of shutting it down. I admit. I admit the jealousy. I admit that seeing a film run for years in a theatre made me feel different. I had to overcome it. I tried change. I refused to let a film be my identity. It was me all along. Today when I think of it, maybe an attachment to a particular film probably would have saved me.
No. I love my royal uniqueness, after all.
But I was abandoned. I was decried as a ‘shady’ space that is frequented by ‘loiterers’. I became a mere price tag. You don’t think I know? I was your frugal partner. I reveled in that glory too. I was no more a Dilip Kumar or an Amitabh Bachchan. I was a shadow of what I used to be. I invited you in nevertheless.
I struggled to find the meaning in those sentiments in all the stories I painted on the silver canvas. All those couples whose love blossomed under the faint glow of my screen never introduced me to their children. I was a part of their story, as were they of mine. Or the groups of friends in their bell bottoms? As the trend changed to skinny fits, I never saw them again. How can I forget the starstruck eyes of first time moviegoers? Now, they must be streaming a pirated copy of something on their laptops.
So I thought of Mera Naam Joker. After all this hurt, I wish to entertain you one last time. I know you all are lining up to meet me this final time. Some of you are getting in, some of you not; and some, may not even know I will be no more. By the time they read this, I may be taking my last breaths or the shutters would have already come down. The saga that started with The Devil’s Brother is now ending with the beautiful Sangam. It is a reunion, after all isn’t it.
You will find a different me soon. That, that won’t be me. I will be forgotten as someone stretches their legs in their plush seats. Or gets food delivered to their seat. I will be gone, taking with me the smell of butter popcorn and samosa.
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