Madhumati ran here for 50 weeks. Yaadon Ki Baraat for 100 weeks. Now, this famous Triplicane landmark is all set to be razed. R. Sujatha and B. Kolappan report
Stage is set for the demolition of Star Talkies on Triplicane High Road. Seats have been dismantled from the darkened hall that was once patronised by governors, film stars and lovers of Hindi films. It's not yet known what's going to come up in its place.
Star Talkies originated as Cinema Popular, built in 1916 on a piece of land owned by one Venkataramanuja Naidu. In 1936, when the talkies came, Cinema Popular morphed into Star Talkies. The first talkie to be screened here was Kalidasa.
The theatre was managed by a Parsi family until 1950, when Mr. Naidu decided to take control of it. With the help of his lawyer T.A. Rangachari, he was able to take over its management. With a capacity to seat 818 people, the theatre was hugely popular among Hindi film buffs before it started screening Tamil films.
Bimal Roy's Madhumati ran here for 50 weeks, while Nasir Hussain's Yaadon Ki Baraat ran for 100 weeks. T.A. Rajagopal, who took over the management in 1995, said the employees of the theatre received double bonus from the distributors of the two films.
Dhanam (55) has been selling movie tickets in black outside the theatre from the age of 12. “Sometimes I made as much as Rs. 600 a day. I have been to jail several times but was released on bail with the help of good people who lived on this street. They knew I was doing it only to raise my five children,” Dhanam said. Even after the theatre lost patronage and the lowest priced ticket cost Rs. 7, she managed to make Rs. 35 a day.
Former Union Minister and State Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan, who was a regular at the theatre in the 1970s, said besides watching Hindi movies, he enjoyed eating samosas and faluda in the canteen there. “It was there I watched Yaadon Ki Baraat, Kabhie Kabhie and many other Hindi films,” said Mr Elangovan. “There were many theatres in the city catering to different audiences. If you wanted to watch English movies, you went to Rajkumari, Safire and Anand. Hindi films, on the other hand, were screened in Midland and Star,” he said, adding that students like him would use a pencil to draw a moustache to gain entry into Minerva theatre.
G. Balaram, who runs the next-door New Fancy Hair Dress, started by his father in 1941, said filmgoers would come to his salon for a quick shave or a haircut while waiting for a film to start. “After their release in Bombay, Hindi films would be released in Madras only at this theatre,” Mr. Balaram recalled.
The theatre was renovated to accommodate changing technology. When cinemascope films began to be made, the theatre invested in cinemascope screens. During the screening of MGR-starrer Petral Thaan Pillaya, fans ripped apart the screen and damaged the theatre when they heard that MGR had been shot by fellow actor M.R. Radha, recalled K. Rajasekaran, a manager in the theatre for 59 years. “We repaired it overnight and ensured not a single show was cancelled.”
For many years, the theatre had special seating arrangement for purdah-clad women. Screens were erected to prevent others from seeing them. The practice was later abandoned. “When the Hindi film Taxi Driver was screened, my father ran a free show for taxi drivers. The last film we showed was Rajinikanth-starrer Basha, on February 29. I allowed auto drivers to watch the film for free on the last day of screening,” Mr. Rajagopal said.