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They were watching Tiranga

Smita Nair

Posted: Sep 19, 2006 at 0933 hrs IST

March 12, 1993, 3.13 pm, Plaza Cinema. As many as 881 people were watching the Nana Patekar-Rajkumar starrer Tiranga. An RDX-laden Maruti van in the parking lot blew up. Ten people died, 37 were injured.

The show had started at 3 pm, minutes after the previous one ended. "If the bomb had gone off a little earlier, the story would have been different" — hundreds of people were getting in and out of the theatre, says Kiran Shantaram (63), son of late filmmaker V Shantaram, whose family runs the theatre.

"I have never been able to answer my mother’s question till date: Why Plaza? Today, when I heard that the bomb planters, Asghar Yusuf Muquddam and Shahnawaz Qureshi had been found guilty, there was some satisfaction," says Shantaram.

That day, around that time, he was at Raj Kamal Studios in Lalbaug, when a close friend came in a taxi to pick him up. "All he said is, I have come with bad news: Plaza has been bombed," recalls Shantaram, who was in his theatre a hour before. "We went back in the same cab. Neither of us spoke."

At Plaza, he saw that the building was on fire, the facade had crashed, police vans had arrived, and charred bodies of six of his employees were on ground, where the bomb had left behind a huge, black crater.

"I cried like a small boy that day. Someone passed a chair. I sat and I cried more," says Shantaram.

"Looking back, I only thank God that the entire false ceiling inside the theatre fell after the 881 movie-watchers had walked out," he says.

He remembers that the only thing that was not damaged was the photograph of his father. That was the only thing he took back home that evening.

It took seven years to get the cinema repaired and running again. The money came from the state government and insurance companies. Today, everything is new. However, the rebuilt facade, with art work like before and painted in the same shade of yellow, has not lost its pre-blast look.

Shantaram says his father wanted the theatre to look that way.

Later this month, a metal detector will be installed at the entrance to the theatre.

If there’s any damage that can’t be filled apart from the loss of lives, "it’s the loss of a good platform that Marathi cinema lost for 7 years," says Shantaram.

"That night, my mother kept repeating 'what wrong did we do. It's a cinema hall for middle-class Marathi movie lovers'."

D G Pawar, (64),

Booking clerk at Plaza Cinema

For 43 years, Pawar has been selling tickets to movie lovers at Plaza cinema and his only reaction to the TADA court pronouncing the men who planted the bomb guilty was, "The common man had already given his verdict 13 years ago. Today was just a formality."

That day, as the smoke cleared, minutes after the blast, Pawar realised what had happened, "The booking office roof had fallen on me. I only recall walking to the nearest police van which took me to Sion hospital."

Today, he continues to do what he has been doing for 43 years, go to Siddhivinayak Temple — he feels it’s Ganesha who made him walk that day - issue tickets and work two shifts.

Father of three, Pawar stays in Prabhadevi and walks to his office everyday. After working at a printing screen for seven years when Plaza was under repair, he is now back in his old seat.

"When I walk back to my house in Prabhadevi after work, or walk to office in the morning, I sometimes do not know what to call home, Plaza or my house."

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