Madras/ Chennai theatres/ cinemas

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


The first cinema halls of Madras

When theatres drew the young and old

Manish Raj, TNN | Aug 20, 2012 The Times of India

CHENNAI: A caged tiger was at home in an artificial jungle around Chitra Theatre, nine horizontal lines representing the nine planets and 27 pentagonal designs for the 27 constellations appeased the heavens from Shanthi Theatre and a towering statue of lord Murugan blessed film-savvy devotees at the entrance of Murugan Theatre.

In the summer of 1909, Swami Kannan Vincent arrived in Madras and laid the foundation of the movie business in the South as a supplier of film projectors. A year later, Warwick Major opened the first theatre in Madras in the present Philatelic Bureau on Mount Road, and it was titled Major Warwick Electric theatre. Soon, Gaiety Theatres in 1914 and Wellington in 1917 opened.

New Elphinstone Theatre in 1916 was inaugurated by the governor general of Madras and it was one of the first theatres in India to raise funds for the World War I through its shows. It housed the most unusual indoor sport — a boxing ring where amateurs sparred. When the film bubble burst, it later became Elphinstone Soda fountain, which sold beverages.

If you trace the root of multiplex theatres in India, the journey will end in Chennai. In the post independence period, places like Sapphire, Blue Diamond and Emerald - the first of its kind multiplex in India — drew a large crowd. "The Blue Diamond ran marathon shows from 9am to 12 midnight. It was the most happening place in old Madras," said actor Mohan V Raman.

In the late 60s, Gaiety and Chitra were the haunt of the rich and famous of Madras. Uniformed bearers from Jaffer's (where Raheja Complex has sprung up) delivered snacks at the theatre. "Falooda was the food that found buyers and a visit to Gaiety or Chitra meant people had to stop at Jaffer's," said a member of the group.

The surviving theatre edifices include Casino, which now awaits demolition. It was one of the first to be constructed in an Art Deco style. Shanthi Theatre, which ran to packed houses while screening most of Sivaji Ganesan's hits, is still in business and so is the adjacent theatre with spiraling stairs — Devi. Devi Theatre was the first in India to have four screens, having seating capacities of 1,300,1,200, 300 and 300.

The first superstar of Carnatic music GN Balasubramaniam was charged with causing torrential rains in Madras, which caused a section of wall in Paragon Theatres to collapse on December 5 1946. This tragedy was blamed on the rain-invoking ragas of the maestro that played out during the screening of Rukmangada. GNB acted and lent h

Shanti Theatre

Movie hall crosses a milestone

Shanti Theatre, 1961

Mohan Raman The Hindu January 17, 2011

A popular cinema hall and landmark on Anna Salai, Shanti, turned 50 on January 12, 2011

On January 12, Shanti Theatre turned 50. It probably remains one of the oldest and still functioning theatres on Anna Salai, what with older ones such as Gaiety, Wellington and New Elphinstone giving way to commercial complexes. Indeed, this stretch once used to boast many cinema halls. People never returned home without watching a film unless it was a Sunday or a festival day when “House Full” boards hung outside the gates of these theatres, and all one could do was grab some ice cream at Jaffer's or Buhari and walk down to the beach.

The century-old Warwick's Electric Theatre, Chennai's first, still stands in the Anna Road Post Office compound.

Back in time

The first of the cinemas were Midland and Odeon on General Patters Road and Wellington at the junction of Anna Salai. Globe, Plaza, Paragon, Chithra and Casino were the others, later followed by Safire (with two smaller screens Blue Diamond which had continuous shows and Emerald), Anand (and Little Anand), Devi Theatre Complex and Anna Theatre. There was also the Government-owned screen Kalaivanar Arangam (originally Children's Theatre).

Shanti Theatre was the result of G. Umapathy's dream — to build a a theatre that boasted the amenities and décor of Mumbai halls. It resulted in his teaming up with D. Shanmuga Raja, the erstwhile Raja of Sivaganga, and building the first fully air-conditioned 1,000-plus seater theatre in the city. The décor was modernwith plaster of Paris mouldings and mirrors.

Shanti Theatre was inaugurated on January 12, 1961, by the then Chief Minister K. Kamaraj and the function was presided over by C. Subramaniam, who was then the Finance Minister of the State. The opening show was a film on Lord Venkateshwara — “Srinivasa Kalyanam”. The first film to be released was the A. Nageshwara Rao-Savithri starrer “Thooya Ullam”. Then came the Ashok Kumar-starrer in Hindi — “Kalpana”. This was followed by the first of 82 films of Sivaji Ganesan to be released in the theatre —“Paava Mannippu” — on March 16, 1961.

When the promoters needed a fresh infusion of funds they approached the thespian Sivaji Ganesan to join them. He invested in the project and bought over the shares of the other promoters, thus his family came to own Shanti Theatre. Six of his films, besides “Paava Manippu”, ran for 25 weeks in this theatre. These were “Thiruvilayadal”, “Vasantha Maligai”, “Thanga Padhakkam”, “Thirusoolam” and “Mudhal Mariyadhai”, with 35 of them running for more than 100 days.

“Gone with the Wind”, “North by Northwest”, “Ivanhoe”, “Drums of Destiny”, “Guns of Navarone”, “Sangam” and “Kabhie Kabhie” are some of the other great films screened here. Later, Umapathy went on to build his own theatre — Anand, after he left Shanti Theatre.

In 2005, Shanti theatre was renovated and the Rajinikanth-starrer “Chandramukhi” was released. It ran for a record 888 days. At 50, Shanti continued to enthral film-goers.

(The writer is an actor/ management trainer)

The first Madras theatre chain

The Hindu

The first permanent cinema theatre in the city for full length film screening, was in t early 1900s. It was the Gaiety that was pulled down almost a hundred years later to make way for modern high-rise alongside the Cooum and next door to the Casino. It was the first in the first chain of theatres Raghupathy Venkaiah established in South India.

The Gaiety was followed by the Crown on Mint Street, which was pulled down a little before the Gaiety, and then the Globe on Purasawalkam High Road which was later renamed by Venkaiah as Roxy. This too has vanished. His fourth theatre was Imperial in Madurai.

Raghupathy Venkaiah

The Hindu

For Raghupathy Venkaiah, from being a film exhibitor to becoming a film-maker is only a hop, skip and a jump and, to keep it all in the family, he sent his son Prakash to Europe for training. The moment Prakash returned, they got started on their first silent movie, Meenakshi Kalyanam, but the gods appeared to be against them – and two ‘shoots’ failed. After abandoning the project, they built a studio called the ‘Star of the East’ behind the Roxy. To allow sunlight and prevent dust, they roofed the studio with glass – and the ‘Glass Studio’ it became in the public voice. Here they made their first film in 1922, Bishma Pratigna or Bhishma Vadam, and reaped a profit four times the Rs. 12,000 cost.

With this film, Venkaiah and Prakash pioneered the South Indian film industry.

See also

Delhi: Cinema halls/ theatres / Madras/ Chennai theatres/ cinemas / PVR (Priya Village Roadshow) group / Sapphire, Emerald, Blue Diamond: Chennai/ Madras /

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