Don't mourn the end of Plaza theatre, writes C. K. Meena. It is the order of things for landmarks to repeatedly make way for other landmarks
You know what? Don't mourn Plaza. When you walk past the buckled iron pillars sticking out of the rubble among which recline two wooden doors painted bright blue, don't mourn Plaza.
Because where Plaza stood was once another structure. All along M.G. Road, landmarks repeatedly made way for other landmarks. Memory piled upon memory like a stack of bricks. Archival research will show you that nothing has remained unchanged for long, in this neck of the 'hood.
Right where Plaza stood was Bangalore Furniture Mart. Its owner, on a trip to England, was dazzled by the revolutionary concept called cinema and decided to go into the movie-screening business. He pulled down his furniture shop to build a theatre. Plaza was inaugurated on March 10, 1936, when the only other theatres on this road were Empire and Globe (later renamed Liberty), both of which vanished in the 1970s and were converted into sundry commercial outfits, some of them extremely short-lived.
At Plaza's opening ceremony, to seat the chief guest in style, a sofa was borrowed from the house next door, in which lived Mr. Jose Mariano Dias and his family. This house was demolished and, decades later, made way for the Blu Moon theatre complex, which was demolished to make way for a shopping complex. Mr. Dias, one of the earliest Goans to migrate to Bangalore, ran Dias Music Salon, a stone's throw from his house. He opened the shop, which sold musical instruments, in 1927, and was a violinist who played for silent movies at Globe (before the talkies arrived, every cinema had an orchestra in the pit which provided background music). After his death the shop was run by his daughter, Irene, and her husband, John Lemos, until it was sold and turned into a Zodiac tie showroom, which morphed into a snack shop, if I'm not mistaken, before it disappeared for good. My memories of Plaza overlie those of a million others, including Irene who, along with her sister, used to hop across next door to see movies for free because the kindly ushers would sneak the girls in after the paying crowd had entered. On the first floor of the theatre was a 50-foot-square wooden dance floor, used for the annual Christmas Ball and New Year Ball, and for balls held to herald major motion pictures releases. In my time the dance floor was merely a vast area where we milled around and bought soft drinks during the interval, looking down on M.G. Road through one of the many glass-paned windows.
Directly below the window was the ice-cream cart that welcomed you at the entrance. You inevitably bought a softie from the glum-faced character manning the cart before you walked through the open grill shutters and came up against the sputtering popcorn machine. You scanned the locked glass case on the wall, resembling a jewellery display box, in which were pinned precious stills from the current movie. You ran your eye over the little window at the ticket counter that you had, three days ago, peered through in order to book your seat (a process redundantly called “advance booking”), specifically asking for “centre corner” because you didn't want to be pushed to the outer edges. You waited for the usher to open one, narrow glass-paned door and you always wished he'd open the other one as well so you didn't have to jostle so many bodies to get through.
Once inside, you feasted your eyes on the posters of coming attractions and leisurely wended your way to the front or rear stalls. Or else you walked upstairs, past the ageing copies of Autobiography of A Yogi on display, and made a dash to the poky toilets with unlatched doors while the first bell rang. Well before the last bell went you were safely in your seats. This was the steepest balcony in town, where no head blocked the view of the person behind it. If you sat in the ‘A' row (right up front) you experienced mild vertigo because the railing was lower than your feet. But you forgot everything once the screen came to life.
Impossible to keep count of the movies you saw there. The final one is imprinted on your brain, though, because the huge poster of Meet the Fockers remained on its façade for months after the “No Show” board hung on the closed grill shutters. The basement bookshop closed too — the shop from which you could faintly but distinctly hear the roars, shrieks, bangs and booming voices of the movie soundtrack. The textile shop was the next to go, in the Plaza building, but the watch shop clung on grimly till the end.
But don't mourn Plaza. It will be reincarnated as a Metro station. And that's a landmark that might last well into the foreseeable future.