Gundagardi Near Cinema Halls
How do cinema halls map themselves onto localities - their particular locations in urban space and time? How are they enmeshed in existing forms of social interaction and what are the ways in which they shape and engender new forms of sociality? One way of answering these questions is to look at the practice of selling tickets in the 'black' market, usually controlled by a local dada of the area. We asked O.P.Sharma and V.C.Jain, managers of Liberty Cinema (New Rohtak Road) what they felt was the single biggest change in cinema-viewing culture in the last two decades. They told us - "Gundagardi khatam ho gayi hai" (Hooliganism has finished).They described a network of surrogate 'ownership' linked to various cinema halls. Here are some of the names they, and people from other cinema halls, remember from the 1970s:
Liberty Cinema - Shaadi Lal
Majestic Cinema - Puran Tunta (Subsequently murdered)
Moti Cinema - Shanti
Kumar Talkies - Om Prakash urf `Kala'
Novelty Cinema - Madhi
Jubilee Cinema - Kinnu (Also murdered)
Ambar Cinema - Banarsi and Ranjit
Golcha Cinema - Kauri
Jagat Cinema - Munna and Saleem
Each time a new cinema hall was built there was intense contest within the area for the 'ownership' of the hall. There are a number of dramatic stories attached to each of these goondas. Interestingly, the narration of these stories and the way people remember them is deeply invested with
elements of 1970's early action Hindi Cinema. Puran Tunta for instance, famously beat up a dhobi, who had been rude to him without knowing 'who he really was'. According to Mr.Jain, he was the local leader of about 200 coolies. In a fight he had lost one hand but continued his reign over the area nevertheless, because he carried a lethal knife in his other hand at all times of day and night. Puran was killed one fateful evening on the one day that he was not carrying a knife. Ironically, this happened because he was taking his wife to watch a film.
A number of interesting questions arise if we begin to trace these stories and the history of cinema hall related gundagardi as a social practice.
What were the kinds of loyalties that were working in the formation of these local dadas? Were their networks composed of new immigrants to the city ? What are the ways in which these dadas' identities were created and circulated apart from the more obvious aspect of their articulation with the cinema hall? What were the kinds of conflicts that arose between these dadas, and the police-cinema owner nexus? How did these dadas negotiate the local police presence? What are the contexts that have shaped the present juncture where cinema-halls are not important enough spaces to require a local 'owner'? (According to several accounts this practice continues in varying degrees though on a much smaller scale. For example according to Pahua (quarter bottle) Pehelwan who runs a chicken shop adjacent to Jagat Cinema, the present dada, Chikki, simply cannot match the stature of his predecessors).
Are the stories around these various people themselves a kind of film related culture - drawing from (and perhaps giving rise to) films of the time? How did this practice 'finish', as Jain and Sharma put it? This is an interesting and informative strand of Delhi film culture that we will try and track over the next few months.