South Kolkata’s iconic theatre Priya has been shut for at least a week. This comes after last night’s fire in which parts of the theatre, owned by famed Tollywood ‘bad-man’ Arijit Dutta, were gutted. Initial investigations have revealed that fire at a momo-shop on the ground floor spread even as Bangla film ‘Happy Pill’ was playing out. Fingers are also being pointed at the theatre owners for violating basic fire norms. The fire department now says the fire could have started from one of the air-conditioning ducts in the theatre itself. A forensic team also visited the site today to look for clues on the causes of fire.
“We have told the theatre authorities to send an explanation within seven days. We had warned them the last time a fire broke out here. The emergency exits here are narrow and there could have been a big loss in yesterday’s incident,” said P Jagmohan, Kolkata’s Director General of Fire Services. Safety norms of the theatre have been compromised on many fronts. Sovan Chatterjee, Kolkata’s Mayor and West Bengal’s Minister in-charge of fire services reacted angrily and said, “Running a restaurant in a multiplex is questionable. People’s safety is paramount, and we will not spare anyone.”
Owner Arijit Dutta has promised to cooperate with the investigations but has refused to shut down the theatre for 7 days. “We’re not at fault. We can’t stop the shows, but we will give all details to the police and fire department,” Dutta said.
Smoke was detected billowing out of the theatre near Deshapriya Park around 10:20 pm when the nigh show of ‘Happy Pill’ turned into a bitter experience for many of Kolkata’s cinema-goers. People rushed out of the theatre and as panic spread there was almost a stampede. Instead of coming out of the theatre, some people rushed up to the roof. They were later rescued by the fire services. Six fire tenders were pressed into service immediately. Windows of the theatre were broken to evacuate the smoke that had spread inside the theatre. There were no casualties or injuries to people inside the building.
Local police at the spot had initially blamed a momo centre located on the ground floor of the complex for the fire. The eatery has been in operation for over a year now. Strangely the owner’s family lives in the same complex and managed to escape via an elevator when the fire started.
This is the third instance of fire at the Priya theatre since 2013. A fire last broke out in the theatre in 2015 after which the theatre was renovated about 18 months ago. Questions are being raised on how the fire safety clearances were obtained despite repeated incidents. Fire safety in theatres came into sharp focus across India after over a 100 people were killed in the Uphaar theatre fire tragedy in 1997.