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Cinema under a Bridge Provides Bollywood Escape for Delhi’s Poor | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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People watch a movie in a makeshift cinema located under a bridge in the old quarters of Delhi, India May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

The poor rickshaw pullers and migrant laborers in India’s capital have found an escape of their daily hardships and struggle into a world of Bollywood’s love and romance; through a makeshift cinema under the 140-year-old double-decker bridge over the Yamuna river.

The cinema shows 4 films a day, people gather on the rusty iron floor, under a ceiling of old rags and a compilation of cheap curtains and mats.

The cinemas’ organizers collected their savings to rent an old TV set and a video compact disc player, and charge 10 rupees (15 U.S cents) admission – a hundredth of the price of entry at Delhi’s fanciest movie theaters.

One regular at the Cinema, Mohammad Noor Islam, who came to Delhi from the eastern state of West Bengal nearly four decades ago as a 10-year-old boy and currently works as a junk dealer, said watching these movies at this humble place saves them from falling to the vices of drugs and gambling.

“Films are much better. Many men get hooked on gambling, drugs and alcohol and they pass their time by drinking or smoking,” he said.

“But some of us, who do not indulge in these vices, come here and watch films. We are addicted to films,” said Islam.

It could count as nothing compared to the fancy theatres around the world, however this dim and breezy interior of the cinema hall is perhaps the one and only relief for daily laborers from their jobs on the city’s sweltering streets where temperatures have soared as high as 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) this month.

“When we come to watch films, they help us forget our problems. I was tense earlier but when I sat down to watch the film I felt my tension easing,” said Manoj Kumar, a rickshaw puller from Bihar.

After dark, the cinema hall becomes a night shelter providing comfort in the scorching heat.
Ishfaq, one of the cinema’s co-founders, runs a small food stall nearby and said it was a great place for people to unwind after hours of hard labor.

“The place is wide and open, there is a cold and pleasant breeze here because it is so close to the river Yamuna – it feels like an air conditioner is on,” said Ishfaq, who offers meals for 5-10 rupees.

On an average day, about a 100 people use the cinema hall to watch films, rest and catch up on some sleep. Ishfaq worries that the cinema, which operates illegally, might be shut down by the authorities.