Once upon a time, Laxmi Talkies in Dehra Dun laid claim to being the best cinema hall in town. It was spacious and clean, its seats were very comfortable, the ushers were prompt and courteous, the picture and sound quality was always excellent as were the hand painted film posters. And there was an additional bonus: during the interval, the eateries outside offered top quality snacks and tea at unbelievably low prices and thrived as a result. But all that has changed now. Today, Laxmi Talkies is just a memory for the older generation at Dehra Dun.

The building that was once known as Laxmi Talkies and boasted of more ‘House Fulls’ than any other cinema hall in town lies in disuse with parts beginning to crumble. What was it that brought about this startling downfall? The arrival and spread of TV was responsible only partially. Old timers in the area narrate that when the location for constructing the cinema hall was first decided, there was a major question mark as a frequently visited powerful pir’s ( sufi saint) grave was already situated at the site. However, after consulting people wise in the ways of the other world, it was decided to seek the Pir Sahib’s blessings and proceed only if they were given.

The Pir Sahib appeared in a dream to Lalaji, the prospective cinema hall owner and told him they could go ahead on two strict conditions. One, that his grave would never be disturbed, moved or desecrated in any manner. Two, that visitors and devotees would have free access to the grave. Lalaji readily agreed to both the conditions and the cinema hall was constructed in such a manner that the grave got a walled enclosure of its own just behind the main screen. Behind the grave were constructed ‘quarters’ for the cinema hall manager and on the western side was constructed a sort of rest house for Lalaji and his family. For devotees, a door was to be always kept open on the eastern side.

This arrangement worked well for more than three decades with Lalaji and his family being very particular about paying their respects, with sweets and other offerings to the Pir Sahib every Thursday. In fact, many people attributed the huge success of Laxmi Talkies to the Pir Sahib’s blessings. But once Lalaji passed away and his son Jyoti took over this happy picture changed. Not as wise as his father but eager to show that he could do better than him, Jyoti decided to increase the cinema hall’s seating capacity. For this, the only way was to demolish the manager’s ‘quarters’ and move the Pir Sahib’s grave right down to the back boundary of the cinema hall.

Ignoring virtually everybody’s warning and advice not to move or disturb the Pir Sahib’s grave, Jyoti went ahead. Labourers were hired to start work after the last show ended at midnight and they were to continue working in shifts before the day’s first show began the following afternoon.  However, at about one at night, before any work could begin all the construction material and the four labourers and mason were flung onto the roadside. The material scattered and the labourers and mason were injured. It was then that they heard a voice tell them that their lives had been spared this once, but if they persisted they and the cinema’s hall’s owner and his family and the manager and his family residing in the premises would all be ruined and lose their lives one by one. A promise made by Lalaji was being wilfully broken and the consequences for it would be heavy.

The manager’s family, Jyoti’s own family, the eatery owners around the cinema hall all pleaded with him but were not able to convince him fully. The manager was the only one who supported him. Jyoti held back from trying to move the grave and demolish the manager’s ‘quarters’ but as a ‘trial step’ he decided to reduce the area around the grave and use the space as a storeroom. Once again, the material and labourers were flung out by an unseen force. And from that day began the ruin and end of several people. The manager took to drink, neglected the cinema hall and his family and when Jyoti threatened to sack him, suffered a heart attack and died before Jyoti’s eyes, leaving behind a son who had just graduated and three college going children and their mother.

Jyoti was prevailed upon to give the son his father’s position. But the Pir Sahib’s wrath continued to work.  The son took over, got married, had a child. The first night home from hospital one of the parents must have turned and smothered the child who was found dead in the morning. The son took to drink too and died after he rammed his two wheeler into another vehicle. His younger brother took over and also went the same way. His sister, in her twenties, was struck by a strange malady and died a slow painful death. The manager’s family was almost ruined by now and the cinema hall was suffering huge losses.

Jyoti’s mother died mysteriously. Jyoti himself was wracked by illness that defied diagnosis. His wife filed several court cases against him and eventually Jyoti, facing utter ruin was forced to sell Laxmi Talkies. Far from being able to revive the cinema’s hall’s fortunes or turn it into a smart shopping complex as they later planned, the family who bought the hall were also struck by the Pir Sahib’s wrath and gradually ruined. A ghostly stillness and silence descended on what was once Laxmi Talkies.          

In the building that resonated with the vibrant footsteps of countless avid movie goers only a few footsteps resonate now once a week on Thursdays. That is the day dedicated to the Pir Sahib who was thoughtlessly disturbed and provoked to the extent where his wrath brought ruin not only to the cinema hall but also the families connected with it. The few footsteps on Thursdays are those of the Pir Sahib’s faithful followers and on them the Pir Sahib continues to confer his blessings which translate into well being and prosperity.

If only we could turn back the clock and undo what was done long years ago lament the few straggling survivors of the families who had invited the Pir Sahib’s wrath. But they know that despite the passage of time there is no escape. They were given chances by the Pir Sahib but they broke promises and know they must pay for it. Already ruined financially, they are now waiting, resigned to a sudden death – the price that must be paid for their greed and disrespect to a revered Pir.

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