Regal finally closed down after screeningMera Naam Jokerand Sangam as its last hurrah. Regal and Rivoli were two cinema halls in Connaught place that attracted a lot of spectators, both old and young. On Sunday it was mostly students, who crowded there but Regal had an edge over its rivals, which included Odeon and Plaza. One memory of the Cinema house that lingers is about Mahrani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur, who came to see a repeat show of Gone With the Wind there. Like that the premiere of the film, released in 1939, was held at Regal also but subsequently too it was shown over the years.
It was in 1972 that the Maharani and some members of the Jaipur royal family came to watch the Clarke Gable-Scarlett O'Hara starrer. The reason was that Clarke Gable had some time back descrbed her as second of the 10 most beautiful women of the world (an honour recently re-earned by Priyanka Chopra). After the show one tried to speak to Gayatri Devi despite the security surrounding her. She did pause for a minute to answer the question about what she thought of the comment. "It's very flattering," she replied and walked away, looking ever so grand in her voile sari and fancy slippers, her hair blowing in the autumn breeze. Another memory is about the screening of The Robe (1953). The film concerned the robe worn by Christ and of how it had become the prized possession of an elite Jewish family after his crucifixion.
The Christian community of Delhi trooped to Regal with then Archbishop Joseph Fernandes leading them. The nuns of Jesus and Mary Convent came with their rosaries and throughout the show one could hear "Pater Nostas"and "Ave Marias" being recited by some of the more orthodox until the Rev Mother asked them to pipe down as the others in the audience were getting disturbed.
When a Raj Kapoor film was being screened, the actor's father Prithviraj Kapoor, an MP then, came straight from Parliament House to see it. Dressed in kurta-pyjama, he looked the perfect picture of health. A boy from among crowd that had collected outside told another, "See Awara's father." The elder Kapoor turned around and shouted at the boy to shut up. At the same remark in Bombay, he had slapped someone tight for his insolence. He made it clear that he was the father of Raj Kapoor but certainly not of a vagabond (Awara).
During the screening of Satyam Shivam Sundaram, starring Raj Kapoor's younger brother, Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman, Mubarak Khan, a filmbuff from the Walled City of Delhi, couldn't help pinching towards the vivacious actress and pinching her while she and the hero were being showered with marigold petals. Zeenat screamed, looking around for the culprit but he had dissapeared into the crowd. Shashi Kapoor was red with anger and asked the crowd to behave or they would go back. Just then policemen moved in and forced everyone without tickets to retreat across the road, where they stood clapping, waving and wolfwhistling in the green patch now partly occupied by Palika Bazar.
For Bobby, released in 1973, the crowds were to be seen to be believed at Regal. The film starred Raj Kapoor's son, Rishi Kapoor as Raja and Dimple Kapadia, screen daughter of a Goan fish merchant played by Prem Nath. Students from St Stephen's College, Hindu College, Kirorimal College and other educational institutions of Delhi, like Lady Shri Ram College for women and Jesus and Mary College, were there in the huge crowd. The rumour was that Dimple Kapadia was actually Raj Kapoor's daughter, adopted by a wealthy Bombay family. The college girls took exception to such remarks and asked the boys to behave or go home and leave them in peace. This had a salutary effect and no more rumours were heard after that.
There are many stories of Regal's glorious past, including those when Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Mountbatten, Rajendra Prasad and Indira Gandhi graced the prestigious cinema hall with their presence, but lesser mortals too added lustre to the cinema hall.
The late South Indian dance and music criric of The Statesman, Subdudu, once recalled that Vyjayanthimala attended a show when Sangamwas making waves and sat engrossed, especially during the playing of the song featuring her and Rajendra Kumar ("Har dil jo pyar karega wo gana gayega…"). For Raj Kapoor it was his favourite theatre in Delhi because of its association with father Prithviraj Kapoor, whose plays were enacted there after Regal took over Majestic Cinema in Chandni Chowk, where the first theatrical performances used to be held. For one show there, when Sohrab Modi and his troupe took Delhi by storm, even the dhobis are said to have sold their bullock carts to buy tickets and witness the NaachGaana they earlier watched at the kothas of dancing girls in Chawri Bazar. Haji Zahoor, who died in 1982, used to recall that he had in his younger days heard Zohra Bai Ambalewali singing at Majestic in the second decade of the 20th century. Regal came up in 1932 when New Delhi was being built and the contractor for the new Capital, Sir Sobha Singh, made over his plot of land to family friend Wazir Dayal, chief executive engineer of CPWD. One remembers Masood Alam of Nai Basti, who used to catch the morning train from Raja-ki-Mandi Station for Delhi, instead of going to college, to see the first-day-firstshow at Regal. He would return late in the evening and next day tell his college friends what an enjoyable experience he had had. Another Agra film-buff, Mohammad Ali used to see the evening show at Regal and return by the night train, which reached Agra early morning. He was an MA English Literature student at St John's and quite unlike one too. Wearing pyjama-kameez, with short (Rungroot-cut) hair, tall, dark and thin sans sophistication, he was nevertheless sold out on movies, both Indian and foreign, like Gone With The Wind, which was first premièred at Regal and repeated at shows later.
One morning one found Mohammad Ali washing his face at the public tap of Agra Fort station without soap and towel. He had just come back from Delhi after watching The Robe, showing at Regal. Ali wiped his face on someone's petticoat hanging out to dry in the still faint sunlight. He passed his hand over his hair (no need for a comb) and headed for a chai shop. Believe it or not, there couldn't have been a more devoted lover of Regal. He later became an English lecturer in a new garb. But his association with Regal continued as he was seen with his wife and kid there one evening long ago.
When there was a strike at The Statesman in the 1970s, in which the staff of the lunch room also joined, subeditors and reporters used to walk in a procession to Regal building to have lunch at Standard Restaurant, housed above the cinema hall. One day a junior sub Amit Mukherjee did not return to duty. It seems after quaffing off a pint of Rosa Rum (costing just Rs 5 then) he settled down in Regal to watch the afternoon show of Rajnigandha. He had confided to colleagues that he had fallen in love with the heroine Vidya Sinha ("as sweet as the night flowers") and was thinking of proposing to her. But that afternoon he dozed off mid-film and returned to office, still dazed after 6 p.m. when the Dak edition, for which he had to make the sports page, was about to be released. Somebody, of course, had deputised for him though he nearly got sacked for his irresponsible behaviour. Whether Amit proposed to Vidya is hard to tell but he left his job and went away to Faridabad, where he became an alcoholic and was found dead one morning.
Another interesting story about love for Regal concerns Amjad, son of a hotel proprietor of Jama Masjid, who didn't watch films in nearby Jagat Cinema but at Regal with his girlfriend, a nurse in Ram Manohar Lohia (then Willingdon) Hospital, where he couldn't be recognised, and have a good time in the box reserved for lovey-dovey couples.