Curtains fall on most single-screen theatres in city

Ashoka, which is now a function hall, formed the troika with Navrang and Vikranti in the Jam Bagh area.   | Photo Credit: Serish Nanisetti

First-day first-show, bunking classes to watch Suhaag in January 1980, the first ‘naughty’ movie and the first kiss — there are a zillion memories for city residents that played out in the darkness of cinema halls. But this long affair with cinema halls seems to be fading rather rapidly. From the time of screening of black-and-white silent movies in tents to talkies, to the surround sound magic to the digitally streamed movies inside cinema halls, Hyderabad has seen it all.

But the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and subsequent lockdowns have accelerated the demise of cinema halls in the city.

Rise and fall

On the eve of Independence and merger with India, Hyderabad had 17 cinema halls. The number peaked to a high of 113 in the late 80s. And from that peak, the descent started as video cassettes, DVDs, Blu Ray followed by piracy on streaming online services dealt a blow to cinema-watching experience.

“Watching movies at a single screen theatre is an experience. No YouTube video or OTT service can replicate it,” says actor Aziz Naser, adding that he never missed a single movie in Milan, Priya, Skyline, Sangeet and Sterling. “The first movie I remember watching on my own was Killer in Lata, Nampally, where the ticket was ₹1. I was in Class X then. The joy of watching the movie, the occasional wait for the reel to arrive from a different theatre was something else. I feel sad when I watch theatres in ruined and deserted state with their seats covered in dust,” says Mr. Naser, who remembers watching his own movie Angrez at Maheshwari. A movie which later marked silver jubilee at the Ramakrishna theatre.

While names like Sangeet, Skyline and Liberty have survived in public memory, others have faded except for popping up at unexpected places. Lighthouse is an electronic goods showroom in Gunfoundry area.

“I started the shop with the name as it was popular and the cinema hall was in this location. It’s been decades since the cinema hall was brought down. A commercial complex is coming up there,” says the owner of the electronic goods showroom.

Without a trace

A little ahead, a bidriware shop has Zamarrud Mahal as part of its location marker. “The cinema hall is long gone. Now it is being used as a parking place. It was at this cinema that Razakar leader Kasim Razvi gave his famous speech. The cinema halls doubled as function halls,” says historian Sajjad Shahid, who remembers watching movies as some of them continued the practice of purdah which was either balcony or box.

Zamarrud was a precursor to the recliner seats as it had cushioned sofas in the front for the well-heeled paying ₹5 per ticket while the not-so-well off could watch for six annas from the rear of the hall. Some cinema halls were quirky with pillars in front of some seats.

“Embassy was a small cinema hall with a column in the middle. You had to go early to get the seat with a good view,” adds Mr. Shahid, who recalls the role of architect Taruj Ahmed Khan for the design of Shaam, Skyline and Royal and other theatres. While the architects of other cinema halls are not well known, their flirtation with Art Deco movement can still be seen at the Saptagiri with its flared frontage, or Shanti or the Yakut Mahal which was completed in 1938 at the peak of the architectural movement.

Yakut Mahal which still draws the crowds, albeit to a lesser extent, had a brilliant sound system and a bright projector which was a killer preposition.

In the 30s, Select Talkies had a phone number of 826 located at Baradari Nawab Salar Jung Bahadur, 50s Royal had the number of 4762, the phone numbers disappeared from advertisements. Instead tag lines like ‘A neat and clean picture that will entertain your whole family’ for Dharti Kahey Pukar Ke popped up. By 90s, Skyline, Kumar and Lamba were showing movies like Manifesto for a Night of Love, drawing a sizeable male clientele. But the darkness was closing in quickly.

Each cinema hall developed its own USP. At Sangeet, it was mint chutney sandwich, at Anand it was the samosas. Then there were cinema halls that catered to niche audiences with Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam and Kannada film screenings.

Unending bad news

One of the earliest movies to fall under the hammer was Palace, which made way for the MPM Mall.

After that, it has been a steady stream of bad news for single screen theatres with some turning into furniture malls, some into function halls while others have been turned into commercial complexes.

The COVID-19 lockdown has accelerated the pace of destruction of single screen theatres. Now, only about 62 survive. With their disappearance, a way of life is disappearing for a generation of movie lovers.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 10:50:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/curtains-fall-on-most-single-screen-theatres-in-city/article37743366.ece

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