An iconic landmark fades into history

Leela Mahal, the 68-year-old theatre being razed down on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Vijayawada on Thursday. Photo: Ch.Vijaya Bhaskar.  

As the “demolition squad” was busy bludgeoning the concrete structure, many turned nostalgic as the theatre played a critical role in catering to the needs of the English film buffs right from 1944 to late ‘90s. For good number of buffs, a visit to Leela Mahal was like attending an English tuition class.

However, many also cried inside down their hearts, when the theatre, which introduced heroes like Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Lee Marvin, Charlton Heston sirens like Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren in their lives, began screening sleazy Malayalam soft porn films for survival.

“The seedy posters pained me more than its demolition. Its good it (Leela Mahal) went,” said G. Phani, statistician at Andhra Cricket Association, with disdain.

“Leela Mahal was a brand name those days. It meant quality and discipline. When I used to enter the theatre I felt as If I was entering a pubic school. I will always remember the ambiance and behaviour of the viewers. They felt as if they belonged to Hollywood. Those days will never come,” says P. S. Bhatt, a cultural critic and a former employee of All India Radio.

Kavi Samrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana, senior columnist Andavalli Satyanatayana, Chodavarapu Krishna Rao and noted lawyer Patibantla Sundara Rao (senior) were some of the literary connoisseurs who were the regulars at the theatre.

“Every Friday a new film used to hit the screen. Ten Commandments ran for record 100 days in that theatre. Hamlet, Ben Hur, Robe, Henry VIII, Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, Gone with the Wind, Roman holiday, Goldrush, Anna Karenina, The tale of Two Cities were some of the films I saw in Leela Mahal, “recollected senior columnist Andavalli Satyanarayana.

Movie used to start on the dot and the usual whistling, shouting were conspicuous by their absence. The management used to screen five shows daily. “As the English films were of shorter duration, we used to add one more screening in the evening at 5 p.m.,” said Mr. Bulli, who was the manager of the theatre for 27 years.

Senior lawyer S.M. Sultan felt that the emergence of multiplexes and screening English films dubbed in Telugu sounded the death knell to English films.

Leela Mahal also had its share of controversies when “Body of Evidence”, a controversial Madonna starrer with a good number of steamy scenes ran to packed houses amidst hue and cry of women's organisations.

Leela Mahal will be remembered for the steamy idlys served on the push carts and also for the mirchi bajjis served with curd with a dash of coriander. RIP Leela Mahal!.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 6:09:15 PM |

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