Coimbatore once teemed with theatres that showed the latest films, including those in English and Hindi. But, after the 1990s, many of them found it difficult to run the show. Low tickets rates and growing competition saw many of the city’s landmark theatres take their last bow. PARSHATHY. J. NATH speaks to theatre owners and an employee to trace how the dream merchants faced their worst nightmare

COIMBATORE: Sivasakthi, Saibaba Colony

Sivasakthi theatre is still a popular landmark in Saibaba Colony. Only, it is no longer a theatre. It is now Kannan Departmental Stores. But, a sculpture of Lord Siva and Parvati, representing the theatre’s name, still watches over customers as they stream in and out of the store. The theatre, started in 1969, closed in 2007, due to losses.

V. R Subramaniam, who owned the theatre recalls how people came from as far away as Thadagam and Anaikatti, in bullock carts, to watch films. “All 1,175 seats in the hall would be packed. The audience would dress up like their favourite stars. The place would throb with life. Vendors would sell song books and food.” He says women used to constitute 75 per cent of the audience. “However, by the mid-1990s their numbers dwindled, as TV serials kept them home. Cable channels would telecast scenes and songs from new films. Once, we discovered that a local cable group was telecasting a new release that was still running in our theatre.” Subramaniam remembers the last show. “There were only 100 people in the hall for Yaaradi Nee Mohini. And to think, that once, murukku vendors would sell out their wares in minutes!”

Sreepathy, Trichy Road

Sreepathy, where film buffs once thronged to watch films, is now Kannan Departmental Store, bustling with people buying fruits and provisions. A faded name board still hangs atop the complex.

The theatre, started in 1976 and closed down in 2000, was run by four brothers — T. Ramakrishna, T. Ramanarayanan, T. Ramanathan and T. Ramamurthy.

The theatre used to run to packed houses in the 1980s, says T. Ramakrishna. “Films such as Sholay, Abhimaan, Choti Si Baat and Maa were big hits and ran for five to six weeks. North Indians from the nearby defence areas came to watch the Hindi films.”

“The minimum price of the tickets used to be 75 paise in the 1970s. In 2000, the government fixed the maximum and minimum rates at Rs. 12.50 and Rs. two, respectively. It was hard to continue.”

You can still see traces of the old movie hall at Kannan. The ground floor, where those who bought the most inexpensive tickets sat, still has the pillars and wooden railings. The ceiling in the first floor, which used to be the balcony, still retains the leaf-shaped designs so popular in the 1970s.

In a small telephone booth, inside Kannan, sits M. Balasubramaniam, also known as ‘Cashier’ Mani. He still uses the same table and chair from where he sold tickets. He treasures an old letter pad with the theatre logo.

The last show would go on till two in the morning, he says. “I would be the last to leave. I would carry the money and walk back home to Town Hall.”

The theatre office, where the owners sat and managed the tickets and accounts, was adjacent to the theatre owner’s house. Mani’s son, Sundaram, used to accompany his father.

“Even after the theatre shut, my father used to spend time here. He was attached to that room. He never thought of looking for another job,” Sundaram says.

The owners gave Mani a job as a photocopier at a nearby shop. He now hands out warm photocopies to customers.

PRICE MATTERS

Narayanswamy Naidu, vice-president of Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors’ Association, had to close down his Krishna Theatre in Periyanaickenpalayam. The ticket rates fixed by the Government should be raised, he says. “In villages, the minimum cost is Rs. four and the maximum cost is Rs. 25. When distributors sell us a film, they ask for a minimum guarantee of Rs. 20 lakh. How can we buy films or make a profit with the existing rates?”

Then and now

Raja Theatre, Town Hall 1936-2011. Most films of MGR and Sivaji were screened here. MGR has even come here for the 100 days’ celebration of Nadodi Mannan. Now, a parking lot for Pothys.

Rainbow Theatre, Trichy Road, Srinivas Theatre, Brooke Bond Road. They screened English films. Rainbow has screened hits such as Psycho and Ten Commandments. Now, they are apartments.

Swamy Theatre, Variety Hall Road The second theatre in Coimbatore. It closed down 10 years ago.

Geethalaya, Gandhipuram Functioned for 35 years since the 1970s. Now, a hotel complex.

Some other theatres that have closed are Kennedy, Apsara, Arul, Sri Murugan and Srivalli