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The man who has watched DDLJ for 654 weeks

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Jagjivan Vitthaldas Maru
For 654 weeks, this man has watched DDLJ twice every day. From the projector room of Maratha Mandir Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam..." he hums as he sits on his high stool, staring at the projection window and occasionally at the sparse but animated audience in the hall below. Then, with a resounding snap and a jerk, he changes the reel. The audience claps and cheers, then there's a loud whistle as Raj Malhotra utters the famous words: "Bade-bade shehron mein choti-choti baatein hoti rehti hain."

It's the 654th week of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at the Maratha Mandir cinema hall and Jagjivan Vitthaldas Maru (58) doesn't care if Yash Raj belted out another dud in Tashan. As the man who has completed nearly 13 years of manning the projector at Maratha Mandir, Jaggu, as he's fondly called, remains very much in love. With Yash Raj; with Raj and Simran; and with the movie, that's running its uninterrupted course straight into the record books as the longest running film, ever. After all, Jaggu's been running with it, since Day One.

Having started in 1972 as a young die-hard Bollywood fan, Jaggu was first employed as the projector technician at the Gaiety-Galaxy cinema in Bandra, earning a princely sum of Rs 300 a month. His father's business had collapsed and Bollywood was bailing him out. He shifted to Maratha Mandir a few years later and has been here since.

He remembers rolling out the Sholay reels in 1982 for two weeks, but says: "Sholay's popularity is nothing in comparison to DDLJ's. Now, there are dozens of familiar faces that I can spot here every weekend, some have been coming for years."

The fair and medium-built technician hails from the tiny town of Mohabbatpara in Gujarat. A Std X pass, Jaggu starts his day at 10 am, after a long commute from Vasai to Mumbai Central. His shift ends at 6 pm.

"I still can't believe how this movie attracts such a huge audience; the halls still go jam-packed on festival days occasions and weekends. Will you believe it, the film actually did not do well in the first week of its release in our theatre," he wonders aloud.v His own favourite movie is Mother India and his all-time favourite star pairing is Raj Kapoor and Nargis. Shyly, he recalls how when they were newly married, his wife Bharti would be hugely excited about his work. "People have this misconception about our job that it's all fun watching a film all day. But the reality is that we need to be alert at all times, to keep checking if the film reel is playing well or not. The reels need to be handled with utmost care any breakage or scratch spoils the quality on screen." He says automated machines for reel-rolling were introduced only about five years ago. "Before that, we had to sit and roll the reels manually. It's not an easy task you know, we sweat and toil to keep the show going."

Any bloopers? He laughingly recalls one day in 1980, during the screening of the film Dard starring Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz. At the end of Part One, the audience began to get on to their feet an sat down abruptly as he began to play Part Two. "I'd forgotten to give the intermission time," he says. "Luckily, no one created a scene and everybody simply sat down to watch the second part." But films made nowadays are no good, he says, explaining why he won't let his four-year-old grandson watch any new movies.

Manoj Desai, the proprietor of Maratha Mandir, calls Jaggu an "excellent technician and a dedicated employee". "He joined as my employee in Gaiety in 1972," Desai says. "He has been like my son. Without him, I think, the screening of DDLJ will lose its essence."

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