Tourists to Jaipur are drawn to its roseate sandstone palaces, its busy bazaars, and to a building that resembles a huge, pink cake. Raj Mandir, a famous single-screen movie theatre, is the realisation of architect W.M. Namjoshi’s vision to ensure that visitors felt like royal guests at a palace.
The theatre was built in the 1970s in the late art deco style. But unlike the stately curves of most such buildings, it takes its confectionery theme very seriously. The main auditorium—done up in soft pink, powder blue, and white—is frequently described as a giant meringue. There are swirls of creamy plaster frosting on the walls, and the screen is bordered by tasselled crimson velvet curtains.
Raj Mandir’s foyer, meanwhile, belongs in a fantasy song sequence: Looking at the sweeping staircase with illuminated banisters, you half-expect a heroine to sashay down any minute. Jellyfish chandeliers are set in electric blue domes in an enormous ceiling, accentuated by lights that flash aquamarine and red. The over-the-top interiors are matched only by the sensational musicals screened there.
The theatre is owned by the Suranas, one of the city’s oldest jewellers, who bring their aesthetic to the architecture. The facade is studded with nine coloured stars representing the nine precious gems or the navratnas of Hindu mythology. The theatre’s seats are similarly divided into pearl, ruby, emerald, and diamond categories.
Now a tad frayed around the edges, Raj Mandir has acquired a vintage appeal. While Jaipur residents make a ritual visit every so often, it has also hosted former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Maharani Gayatri Devi, actor-director Raj Kapoor and, more recently, his grandson Ranbir Kapoor. The late director B.R. Chopra summed it up: “There is nothing like Raj Mandir anywhere in the world. It is not a cinema, it is a tourist attraction.”
The landmark’s draw is rarely the film being screened there; rather, it’s the surreal experience of being inside a bejewelled dessert. In a land crammed with historical structures of all manner, this is another ticket to feeling like royalty—if only for a few hours.
Appeared in the January 2015 issue as “Dessert Rose”.