Non-availability of land is cited as the reason for lack of development

P. Velu vividly remembers running to a nearby theatre in his locality to watch every new MGR film. “Oh, you could just keep watching him. What an actor!” says the fan, with the fascination that began over five decades ago still intact.

“Now there aren't so many theatres in north Madras. A few have been closed down and demolished. They say some complexes are to come,” says the 63- year-old, born and brought up in the area. He currently works as a watchman at a shopping plaza in Old Washermenpet.

While a few theatres such as Bharath and Maharani continue to screen popular films, fans seem to have the option of watching only one particular film there. Bharath, for instance, was screening actor Karthi-starrer ‘Siruthai'.

According to K. Gunasekaran, who is in charge at the ticket counter, while films of big stars attract huge crowds even today, the crowds coming to the theatre have come down over the years. “Weekends are better. Those who come are residents from the vicinity and college students living nearby,” he says, explaining that patronage is given largely by locals.

This is possibly due to the lack of options in the theatres, say some. Multiplexes give viewers an option of picking a movie and that is also why some of them prefer to travel to central and southern parts of the city to watch films, says a college student seen at the theatre.

“Though it is relatively cheaper here, we like the multiplex experience once in a while,” he adds.

It is not just about theatres, but north Chennai can be seen lacking in several other avenues of entertainment, says Earnest Paul, vice-president, Royapuram Residents' Welfare Association.

The beach front could be beautified and made an accessible and peaceful public space, he notes. “We don't have a single good auditorium. Why don't they develop a skating rink in this part of the city too?” he asks.

On occasions when residents approached local MLAs or MPs, the non-availability of land is cited as the reason for lack of development. “It is not that other parts of the city are not congested, but how do they manage to identify land so often? If there is political will, there is a way,” Mr. Paul adds.

Malls

Shopping malls also do not seem to come up very easily in the localities. Patronage does not seem to be the issue. “You should look at the crowd that comes to this mall during weekends. People like it when you get many commodities under the same roof,” explains Mr. Velu.

What then prevents businesses from considering opening more outlets in this part of the city? B. S. Karthik, senior manager, business development of Café Coffee Day, says the locality is still not ready for “our pricing”. The coffee shop has almost all its over-25 outlets concentrated in the southern and central parts of the city.

“The coffee that costs least in our shop is priced at Rs. 45. We do not think North Chennai is a viable business option for our price range,” he says.

On the other hand, those like Mr. Paul believe that the image of the locality will change only if more investment is made and attention is given.

“The city of Madras actually began here in the north. Today, it might be true that the locality is home to many from the labour classes, but it is not fair to think we do not deserve entertainment and development,” Mr. Paul adds.

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