By Joginder Tuteja
Date: 14th June 1996
Temperature: Over 40 degrees Celsius
Event: The release of Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi
I was 19 year old, a Bollywood junkie (as I have always been) and a student at Delhi University. By all means, I had to watch the Akshay Kumar starrer first day first show. A swanky single screen had opened just behind my house, Payal cinema. Practically 200 meters walking distance actually.
The promo was super fantastic; after all, the key peg was fight between Akshay Kumar and Undertaker. Then there were other martial arts snippets thrown into the promo with Akshay Kumar serenading both Raveena Tandon [Aaj Meri Zindagi Mein Pehli Pehli Baar] and Rekha [In the Night No Control]. Of yes, he had a song to himself too [Hum Hain Seedhe Saadhe Akshay]! With the Khiladi franchise gathering steam [Khiladi, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Sabse Bada Khiladi] and Akshay Kumar forging an association with director Umesh Mehra, it was game on.
Excited, and being ‘smart enough’ to know that I won’t be able to just walk into the theater for the first show [12 PM], I waved goodbye to my mother and walked towards Payal at 9 AM sharp. What transpired there was shocking, and yet exciting.
Shocking, because not just was the exterior of the theater crowded to the last inch, the queue actually flooded at the tip of the lane I stayed. Guess, there were people smarter than me who had actually queued up around 7 AM itself.
Excited, because I knew that ‘boss, picture hit hai’. Jitni zyaada bheed, utna mazaa aayega!
I waited, waited and waited, and by the time it was 11 AM, there were this dreaded ‘houseful’ board out there. Of course, the tickets were being sold in black but then I didn’t go for it. No, not because of morality issues but the fact that if I spent a few extra bucks there, I wouldn’t have any money left for the popcorn (which I used to buy for select movies by the way).
Laced with resolve, I decided to wait for the 3 PM show. However, not without taking a turn back home and informing my mother that I would now be back after 6 PM now. Kya karein, there were no cellphones back then. Meanwhile, I asked those good Samaritans ahead and behind me to hold my place as I returned in 15 minutes. I ran home, had water and there I was, back in queue. It was fun to stand in those queues though as a rickshaw wallah was ahead of you and a businessman behind you with me as a student in between, chatting about Akshay Kumar.
2 PM, and the story repeated itself. By this time, there were angry words exchanged. It was frustrating for all to not get tickets. After all, Payal was a 1000 odd seater and with more than 2000 people on the road, by no means all were getting accommodated. This time around, I was closer to the ticket window though. The manager out there of course recognized me, but he was helpless.
‘Saari tickets dhadalle se bik rahi hain, kya karein’, he exclaimed.
The sequence repeated, I went back home, this time grabbed a quick bite, and lo and behold, I was back in queue.
5 PM, and even though yet again there was a houseful board yet again (sigh!), guess who took mercy on me? The gatekeeper. He pulled me aside, and without even asking for any extra money, took me inside the theater at sharp 6 PM and gave me a foldable chair to sit at the aisle. Was I thrilled? Oh yes, I was! That was an experience in itself. To wait 9 hours to get inside a theater for a film which turned out to be a complete entertainer was gratifying, to say the least.
As it turned out, the film had taken a huge opening of just a little under 1 crore and narrowly missed beating the all time biggest opening record of 1 crore that was set by Trimurti just a few months back. Made at a rather handsome budget of around 7 crores, this one was an expensive film shot extensively in overseas. Still, it went on to double its investment and gathered around 15 crores, hence emerging as a superhit.
Well, to stand in a queue in the burning heat for 9 hours and remembering every detail about that experience even 24 years down the line indeed makes it all worth it!