Was too happy to discover the other day that Shahi Theater, one of the oldest cinema halls in Shimla has been modernized. Located amidst the crowded Ram Bazaar area, the theater used to brandish a rugged, wooden look. Being very nearer to old Bus Stand, it was our favorite destination for watching latest movies. We used to rush to buy tickets on arrival from our village Basantpur, some 40 kms away from Shimla. Seeing movies in this theatre was our fancy. Its tickets were cheap and most of the audience consisted of lower middle and labor class. For us it was a safe haven since we enjoyed smoking and there was nobody to notice our presence despite many of our relatives working in Shimla.
In early days, Shahi cinema had a bad repute. Mice used to run under the seats and most of the chairs were broken. Another cinema hall, Rivoli too had broken chairs and stale munchie but not as bad as In Shahi cinema hall, You had to manage to struggle to find a seat in spite of a ticket in your hand..
The Shahi theatre gained popularity as the cinema hall for the lower and labour class, The ambiance of a popular movie theatre used to miss and women used to refrain visiting it.
But ever since the third generation of the owner Sahil Sharma took over the management, things started changing. Equipped with and MBA degree, he transformed the theatre, and now it looks really Shahi (Royal). As of now, it is popular with all class of movie goers.
The theatre started in June 1953 with the filming of “Lakshmi Narain” starring Meena Kumari and Mahipal. Directed by Nanabhai Bhatt, it was released in 1951.
Like its name, Shahi cinema has a royal past. The first owner, the grandfather of Sahil Sharma, Gyan Chand was an eminent practitioner of Unani medicine. Due to his popularity, the Nawab of the erstwhile princely state bestowed upon him the title Shahi Hakim . His treatment for blood purifier and ointments for skin troubles earned him fame not only all over the princely state but in other states too. His clinic in Lower Bazaar was always full of patients. He would ride a horse for home visits. He was one of the prominent figure of the grand old Shimla. He left for his heavenly abode in 1968. The void left by him in Unani medicine could never be filled.
Shahi Hakim was a man of masses and so he envisaged of starting a theatre for the common men. As such, it had to be located at a place where lower class living below cart road working hard through out the day could enjoy the movies. As such, Fern Cottage at the Ram Bazaar was seen as an ideal location for the Shahi Theatre. Its owner Puran Mull, a philanthropist, had made a charitable trust for the property in 1929, with big businessmen of Shimla as trustees. The trust had converted a portion of the building touching the Cart Road into the Rai Bahadur Puran Mull Dharamshala, but the upper portion, was with the Republican Party of India. It was got vacated, and a licence to run films was procured. As such the Shahi theatre for lower classes came into being. And rest is history.
The Shahi Theatre, today, has push-back chairs, films run on digital projector system with dolby sound track and is the only single silver-screen 3D cinema in the north India.
I had the chance to work with Sahil Sharma in Dainik Bhaskar when I was looking after Himachal edition. He was marketing head. His vivaciousness and animated marketing approach had made him a successful businessman . Wish him all the success.