Novelist Pankaj Dubey’s short film looks into the unprecedented run of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at Maratha Mandir and how it changed the lives of those living in the murky lanes of surrounding red-light area
By Manishaa R
Celebrated novelist and former BBC journalist, Pankaj Dubey, had never quite contemplated making a film on the iconic Maratha Mandir cinema, until his attention was drawn to an incident that set him thinking. Dubey who had tracked some of the best international stories, during his stint with the BBC, received a call from a journalist friend working in Sydney three years ago, about protests happening outside Maratha Mandir. The protests were from crowds, who were upset about the management’s decision to discontinue the screening of the classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on February 19, 2015, after completing an unprecedented 1009 week run at the celebrated theatre. That’s when Dubey decided to go out to Marathi Mandir and explore the truth, “I was aware of the fact that the theatre had many firsts to its credit in the history of cinema, including the fact that Maratha Mandir had hosted the premier of Mughal-E-Azam, when elephants were used to bring the prints of the film. Apart from the protests, it intrigued me about how a cult classic like DDLJ continued to draw packed houses in the matinee show for close to two decades.”
When he ventured out to decode the success of the film and its die-hard audiences, Dubey was taken aback, “What I came across was an eye-opener. I noticed that Maratha Mandir was situated in an area, behind which lay the second most densely populated red light area in India. When I delved deeper in the protests, I realized that this Shah Rukh Khan movie had made a great difference to the lives of several sex workers, who lived a hopeless existence in the dark and dismal lanes of Kamathipur.”
The prolific novelist soon noted that there was a strong social-cultural connect in the historic success of the film at the iconic theatre, which had celebrated many a jubilee, “I found out that these sex workers would regularly patronize the morning show of the cult classic every day all decked up, making it housefull and then disappear into their murky trade in the dark lanes. Those few hours would transport them into the world of romance and happiness which they cherished. They followed this practice religiously for 19 years and continue to do so even today after 22 years, after the management decided to resume the screening,” Dubey revealed.
“I found out that these sex workers would regularly patronize the morning show of the cult classic every day and then disappear into their murky trade in the dark lanes”- Novelist and filmmaker Pankaj Dubey
This insight of a longest running classic at a famous theatre being instrumental in transforming several lives, led Dubey to take his first step into direction and make a short film. However the paucity of funds was a hurdle and that’s when his good old friend, veteran actress, Sarika came in, “Sarika had inaugurated my first book and I approached her for a very pivotal role in the film. I told her that I would pitch it to people who could come on board to produce the film but she offered to produce it. I also got another friend, famed Hindi movie writer and lyricist, Swanand Kirkire, to play a fantastic role in the film and it turned out to an engrossing fare,” Dubey recalled.
Moreover, he was thrilled when Manoj Desai, executive director of Maratha Mandir, went out of his way to help in the making of the film, “Manoj Desai did not even charge a single rupee for shooting in the real locations of his theatre. He is also a father figure to Sarika and has known her for a long time. He made sure that we faced no problems in the making of the film.”
Titled Maratha Mandir cinema, the short film which has been nominated for the Filmfare People’s Choice Awards, has got more than a record number of 1,30,000 views online so far. Irrespective of whether the film finally makes it, Dubey admitted that he is glad that he took the decision of making his directorial debut, “It is a tribute to Maratha Mandir, Yashraj Films and Shah Rukh Khan. I am quite kicked about it and am glad that I am bringing this to the audiences. I now intend to make all my novels into films. This is just the beginning,” he quipped.