Shimla: Burnt down in 1983, Regal Theater – which used to be one of the four cinema halls in Shimla, never came up again as an over 25 year old property dispute neither allowed the remnant unsafe structure to be demolished nor does it hold the strength for it to be rebuilt.
“A partially burnt down building that has not had a roof for 29 years,” says Raman Khanna, the official receiver and owner of Regal Theatre building, “was declared unsafe way back in August 1984.”
Ironically, the municipal corporation after declaring the building unsafe had asked Khanna to demolish the dangerous portion immediately. That never happened.
The film theatre was housed in the top floor of the four storied mammoth structure on the Lakkar Bazaar road, close to the city center The Ridge Maidan.
With the development of film industry in the country, Shimla was one of the earliest cities where theatres came up and going out for a movie became part of the social milieu that was only broken by the introduction of television and video films after the 1980’s.
Regal along with Rivoli are among the oldest theaters to have been established in the city that was laid out by British planners.
Constructed in 1925, the top floor of Regal building housed the original Davico’s Ballroom and Movies Theatre. Of course those were day of not black and white, silent movies. Later, after the introduction of sound into films, Regal to began to present ‘Talkies’ shows.
After the theatre got burnt down, a property dispute over the building between Raman Khanna and cousin Shyam Khanna got entangled in courts; the municipal corporation failed to carry out any demolition orders even though the standing structure is in a highly sinking zone of city.
What’s more a school was allowed to be opened 1995, a skating rink that operated in a lower floor before the building suffered from fire damage continues to function and there are a number of shops still transact business as usual.
During pendency of the property dispute, Shyam Khanna died in a highway road accident near Ambala in May 2008, leaving behind no legal heirs as Shyam’s wife and son also had died in the same accident.
However, the dispute has still failed to find a resolution as other claimants pitched in and fate of the theater being rebuilt still remains uncertain.
“Being an unsafe building, no repairs are allowed,” says Raman Khanna adding, “we have let the authorities know that should any loss of life and property take place because of the structure crumbling on its weight anytime, the owners are not be held liable because we are seeking its demolition at the earliest.”
Besides Regal, there were three other cinema halls in the city, Ritz, Shahi and Rivoli. While Ritz and Shahi continue to showcase latest English and Hindi films, Rivoli has been shut down by authorities after being declared as an unsafe structure.
Not only is the building in a sinking zone, but over time even the structure has become unsafe, said a municipal engineer.
While a decision to shut down Rivoli stands, but the issue of demolishing Regal Theatre has been tossing between the district administration and the Municipal Corporation, with neither of them enforcing shutting down of commercial operations in what has been declared an unsafe building, over two decades ago.
For a city that was ahead of many others in the country when it came to cinema, no new multiplexes have come up at Shimla in the last 70 years and even of the four halls that were there at the popular hill station, one has burnt down and another has been declared unsafe.
From time to time intentions for setting up a film city in the state are aired but planners and administrators have failed to revive the defunct film theatres, or add any trendier multiplexes and provide film goers a richer entertainment experience.
Photos by: Amit Kanwar