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End of an era

For many in Gelephu it’s time to say a quick goodbye. More often than not, you’ll catch passers by with a perplexed look while also stealing a last glimpse. 

The sight is that of the grand old Losal Cinema Hall being ripped and shred apart by an efficient group of our very own local laborers under contract – an efficiency not usually a characteristic associated with us. While the majority would shy away from physical labour, this group of men work like a team of heartless mercenaries, eerily exemplary.

The cinema hall was built in 1971 by the Trust of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ranjung Rigpe Dorji. The architect-engineer a man from Mumbai, then Bombay. 

Ironically, it was quite a pleasant surprise as the roof of the cinema, when taken down, revealed a beautiful solid truss work of metal, not known to Bhutan of that era. 

The 48 year old leaky roof gave the skin of the structure an age deceptively beyond its own, for the concrete walls and pillars look unbelievably tough and sturdy. I’m at a loss to understand the demolition.

Of late it is once again the talk of the town,  just the way it was a few decades ago. Conversations begin with the reminiscing of their first experience of real cinema on celluloid. The hits from the 70s and 80s of Bollywood, and of James Bond flicks. But inevitably, people in the nearby tea stalls speculate under their breath as they sip their piping hot and dark Assamese tea. There are rumors of a shopping mall rising up in place of the old hall of fantasy. Some talk about a green open park akin to an oasis for the long hot summer. Another brooding opinion is actually a wish to see a clean green indigenous market to support local farmers, craftsmen and artisans. But it’s hard to guess, especially at a time when trigger happy builders and planners seem to conspire with an obsession to concrete and marble every open green square foot that they lay their eyes on. An ugly footprint you wouldn’t want to look at.

To concur with the sentiment and desire of many here, Gelephu could very well do without a ‘Concrete Godzilla’ of a shopping mall of the likes of those conspicuous gaping sores of its southern kin, Phuentsholing. The sweltering summer of the south drag for an eternity. Businesses hit low and hard. The town becomes quiet, and shopkeepers tastefully indulge in a seasonal siesta.

An open recreational facility for the youth or the elderly would be embraced. An indigenous market to keep people creatively challenged during times when there is an abundance of time only might also be welcome. These questions loom heavy over for the folks here as they for one last time bid adieu to that place that gave memories and fantasies for the good part of almost 50 years.

As for me I will now have an unfulfilled dream, forever. Growing up as a kid here and experiencing the magic of real cinema in this very hall, it was my desire to one day screen my first feature film to friends here in the community.

Contributed by 

Karma Wangchuk Sonam

Artist/ Filmmaker/ VAST Volunteer.

Resident of Gelephu

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