Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater - Roman Polanski
This is definitely not an autobiography to test your patience [ சத்திய சோதனை - படிக்கறவங்களுக்கு :) ]. Just registering my thoughts about my hometown theatres.
Gents, Ladies, bench, chair, balcony, fire, exit, projection room, காலைக்காட்சி, இப்படம் இன்றே கடைசி,வருகிறது, வெற்றிகரமான இரண்டாவது வாரம்– All these words resemble my glorious movie days.
The movie experience is considered best, only when it is watched in a big theatre [ I am not a fan of mini, cine, baby kind of theatres ]. The psychology of watching in the big screens is that it controls us rather we controlling the film with a remote. We completely loose the control watching a movie in a theatre [ that's the key of entertainment - forgetting the EMI/assignments/family/office ]. The DVD or home theatre experience is just a bogus alternate to cinema, where you pause the video, skip a song, conscious about fan/AC speed, some sound in the kitchen [ கேஸ் வாஸனையா வருது ?! ], tea break, kid running out with remote [ BOLT படம் போடுப்பா :) ]. The worst form is watching a movie in the TV channel with 50 advertisements in between, in an omni bus or a car DVD system. That's not the true cinema experience, I call. Let me recollect some of my movie hall experiences in the past.
My hometown didn’t have many places to spend time for entertainment. Either the place had to be a temple, school ground or a cinema theatre. By default, our first choice in a free time was movie and most of the time we were free :). We didn't have biased views, filtering, preview, review[ tortures like film4thwall :) ] talking about the movie. We just experimented whatever the junk it was. It was the glorious late 80s where so many films were released in a month. That's when IR was scoring for all the movies. We used to watch any flicks ranging from 'Karimedu karuvayan' to 'Kaaki chattai', 'Selvi' [ Devar films with dog in it ] to 'SriRagavendrar'. We used to applaud for just showing Rajini photo advt card in the interval [ Skylab tailors :) the first card used to be தினசரி 4 காட்சிகள்- Sathya arts followed by புகை பிடிக்காதீர்].
If Sundara Vinayagar crosses our bus stop, that’s the final warning for us to run towards the theatre. [ we used to tell the time by seeing the bus - பெரிய விஞ்ஞானி இவரு ]
It was the class A theatre [ Bench – 1 Rs., Chair Rs.2.50 The school teachers used the balcony Rs. 3.50 class ha..ha..]. Any new movie [ at least 4 months old ! ] comes to this theatre first. I watched all the movies in my school days sitting in almost all the rows of the theatre.. We preferred the first 10 rows. I need to watch the movie from the white screen to white screen. I can't digest getting into a movie that was already started. [ I was glad to see Woody Allen saying the same dialogue in ANNIE HALL – என்ன ஒரு கனெக்க்ஷன்.! ]
The beauty of this theatre was the morning shows were dedicated for classic films like Moondram pirai, Naadodi mannan, Manohara, Vee.Pa. Kattabomman etc., The regular shows were the new films of that time like Udhaya geetham, Vaidehi kaathirundhaal, Mudhal mariyadhai, Maapillai [ Some examples.. For the full list, I may need the help of Film news Anandhan :) ].
"Thaai veedu" was the first film, we [ I had a great company - my cousin ] started watching by going to the theatres on our own. Till then, we were taken through the ladies counter and then get shifted to the gents. That's how I ended watching enormous number of movies in my school days. We were allowed to see almost all the movies. However, only married couple used to go to Bhagyaraj movies in the 2nd show [ ரெண்டாம் ஆட்டம் ].
I remember all Kamalhassan, Rajini, Mohan movies were released in Srinivasa. The uniqueness of the town was everybody liked Rajinikanth movies and never allowed a Kamal movie to run for more than a week [ except some real blockbusters like Aboorva sagodharargall, Kakki chattai . Guna ran just for 3 days.. Think about Hey Ram ! ]. On the contrary, Rajathi Raja ran 5 weeks houseful in all the 3 theatres, simultaneously.
Due to ill fate, the theatre is converted to a marriage hall. I don't know whether the groom thinks that his marriage is going to be like an action thriller in the future. :) . I couldn't digest that news and started avoiding that area, when I visit my hometown.
It's the typical old type theatre which has got front elevation looking like a glorious building and on the back side it's the usual rice mill model of cinema hall. This is class B theatre wherein medium films were screened [ Rama.Narayanan, TRajendar, Suresh, Murali ] and sometimes old movies were screened [ re-release ]. Before renovation in the 80s, it had the parapet wall running between the ladies and gents section [Remember the fight scene in the film 'Kozhi koovudhu' ]. It's highly inevitable that I use examples from cinema to explain anything :). The small boys who sell snacks [ அர்ஸ்ஸ்ஸீ முறுகேய்ய் ] and 'goli' soda [ I used to collect 'soda' goli ] in a wooden crate, used to easily jump between that great wall of the hall [ சோடாய்..கலரேய் ].
I remember watching 1000-il oruvan, Billa, Kazhugu [ காதல் என்னும் கோயில் பாட்டு கேட்டிருக்கீங்களா ?] Thillana moganambal, Rathak kanneer, Vijayakanth kind of action movies in this theatre. The other good thing was this theatre was the next compound to our great [?!] school. Next to the Kabadi ground, we had a small tree on which we climb and listen to movies in the lunch break [ it was some funny noises – mostly climax fights ]
It's a class C theatre where nobody had a clue what the film screened in that theatre [ even if you watch the movie, you can't understand :) ]. It's the place where typical Thiyagarajan, telugu dubbing, animal based action movies, revenge flicks were screened. I watched Andha oru nimidam, Solla than ninaikiren, eeety [ Extra Terrestrial இல்லைங்க.. இது Vijaykanth padam ].
My Uncle had a habit of watching movies in this theatre especially the last day of a movie. The identification is that they paste " இப்படம் இன்றே கடைசி" on the existing poster. His logic was that he'll get a chance to watch the trailor for the next movie. [ வெவரமானவராமாம் ]
Touring talkies :
The evening show starts with a MGR song "1000 கைகள் மறைத்து நின்றாலும்" and then some songs till the crowd gathers. It had low class [ sand ], bench, aluminum chairs as the high class and the rags as the side doorways. The entire family was once taken by my father for "Bhaagap pirivinai" [ Ada che ! ]. In fact, I was compelling him to take us to 'Vikram' that day. I stopped asking him then. I remember seeing Viduthalai, Bala nagamma, Kaali, Mullum malarum, Maya mothiram in that theatre.
I have been watching the fall of theatres and highly disheartened by the same. Slowly, my childhood theatres started including English movies [ not the good ones ! ]. They didn't get the mass as they used to get. I remember people coming cycles from the villages a few KM away from the town. Rajalakshmi was gone long back and it's still not demolished/reused. Similarly, for Balan – it’s just bushes there.
The only theatre which is still live is Padmavathy [ mini theatre ] – recently, we were just 15 people watching the movie TN07 4777. I was not watching the movie [ crap ] and started rewinding the list of movies, I saw in that smallest theatre of my town [ Idhayathai Thirudadhe, kodi parakudhu..]. I remember they started the first show sentimentally with திருவிளையாடல்.
I’ve watched movies in theatres ranging from touring talkies to the theatre in New York [ PVR screens in Bangalore is a real good experience - Pudupettai, Vettaiyadu Villaiyaadu ]. Films are not only just about entertainment but the memories associated with theatres, the friend(s) we go with and other things matter a lot. I still remember seeing 'Aboorva sagodharargall' multiple times along with the Kamal narpani mandram friends [ They distributed Kamal photo and candies to the audience ].
That's why I became very emotional when I watched ‘Cinema Paradiso’ - I saw my hometown in the Italian town "Giancaldo ". It's a masterpiece.
'Theatres in Pondicherry' is another nostalgic topic where 22+ theatres were running and now there are just 6 theatres existing in Pondy. That's a separate story.