It was the festival of Eid. Shingaar Cinema, the most famous single screen in Ludhiana, was running the Bhojpuri film, Janam Janam Ke Saath, to packed audiences on October 14, 2007. But as people returned after the intermission, a powerful explosion ripped through the hall, killing six people and injuring 37. The bomb, police said, had been placed in the third row from the front and most of those killed and injured were migrant labourers.
Now, a fortnight since Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists struck at the Air Force base in Pathankot, Gurcharan Singh, 83, says he had decided the day his theatre was attacked that the “show must go on”.
“If I had shut down my theatre after the blast, I would have given the terrorists just what they wanted. Why would I do that? After the blast, I thought people would be terrified to come to Shingaar Cinema. But I was wrong. The very next day, people came to watch the show. The administration told me to stop the shows for few days, but I refused. I told the deputy commissioner of police that by not running shows, we will only end up creating panic and fear in the hearts of people,” says Singh, sitting in his home in Gurdev Nagar, where he lives with his wife Parmjeet Kaur, 75. He says neither of his two children — son runs a playschool in Ludhiana and daughter is a doctor in Chandigarh — is interested in running the theatre. On days he is unwell, he only spends a few hours at the theatre.
Singh set up Shingaar Cinema in 1975. Today, despite the multiplex boom, he claims, his theatre “stands strong”. These days, it is screening the latest Shah Rukh Khan release, Dilwale.
“Poor families who cannot afford tickets at multiplexes come to our theatre. We still sell tickets for Rs 10 to 40,” says Singh.
But there are a few things that changed after the blast. “We have always had a police checkpost inside the premises, from the time the theatre was opened in 1975. But the blast happened in spite of the fact that six to seven policemen were on duty that day. So now, we rely on private security that costs me Rs 40,000 a month,” says Singh.
Four alleged Babbar Khalsa International militants were accused of carrying out the blasts. But on December 16, 2014, a Ludhiana court acquitted Gurpreet Singh Khalsa, Harminder Singh and Ravinder Singh alias Rinku, citing lack of evidence. The fourth accused, Sandip Singh alias Harry, was found dead in Nabha prison in April 2011. During the trial, the defence managed to prove that the accused were not present in the cinema hall during the blasts.
“For now, the real culprits remain unknown,” says Singh. “The Babbar Khalsa men have been acquitted and since neither me nor my manager saw who planted the bombs, how can we blame them? It is for the police to investigate further. I can’t blame Sikhs, Muslims or Hindus for what happened to us. Terror has no religion. But yes, I am disappointed that even after so many years, the police have failed to put the culprits behind bars,” he says.
Following the arrest of the alleged Babbar Khalsa men, then DGP N S Aulakh had said that motive of blasts was to “revive terrorism in the state”. Police had recovered 5.10 kg of RDX, three detonators and two pistols from the accused. The police had also claimed that Harminder and Gurpreet had made a trip to Pakistan and trained in making bombs. The prosecution had examined 43 witnesses and the defence 17. The accused had pleaded that they had been falsely implicated in the case. The prosecution’s appeal against the acquittal is now pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Despite the legal tussle, Singh is clear about one thing: “There is no question of shutting down Shingaar Cinema. My children can demolish it after my death, but the 150 employees working in my cinema will not be jobless as long as I am alive,” he says.
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