Curtains down on South India’s first cinema — Delite Theatre in Coimbatore; demolition begins

Delite Theatre was established in 1914 by Samikannu Vincent and his brothers

February 09, 2024 12:54 pm | Updated February 10, 2024 01:07 am IST - COIMBATORE

Delite theatre, formerly known as Variety Hall talkies, in Coimbatore. File

Delite theatre, formerly known as Variety Hall talkies, in Coimbatore. File | Photo Credit: M. Periasamy

It’s curtains for on south India’s first cinema hall – Delite Theatre – on Variety Hall Road in Coimbatore. Work to demolish the theatre building began on Friday as a commercial complex would soon come up at the landmark site.

Originally known as the ‘Variety Hall’ cinema, it was established in 1914 by Samikannu Vincent, a pioneer on many fronts, and his brothers. Samikannu Vincent’s brothers had first tasted success in the ‘touring talkies’ (tent kottai) business, travelling across Coimbatore, Erode, the Nilgiris and Tiruppur. “Variety Hall Road got its name from the Variety Hall Talkies, now known as Delite Theatre,” pointed out Kongu region historian C. R. Elangovan.

Vincent was a visionary in setting up the theatre in a place known for its commercial significance in Coimbatore. Variety Hall was the first theatre to give out printed movie tickets using a pedal printing machine in the 1930s.

That was when Vincent started screening one more show from 10 p.m.

After an overwhelming response, the theatre arranged for four shows in a day, starting from the morning.

Variety Hall also screened a fifth ‘midnight show’ during the occasions of Maha Shivaratri and Vaikunda Ekadasi, when people stay awake all night.

In the late 1920s, despite the erstwhile Coimbatore Municipality having only hurricane lamps, Variety Hall was illuminated with electric lights. Vincent had bought a generator from Europe and had installed a lamp post on the premises.

The Chairman of the Coimbatore Municipality wrote to Vincent asking him to generate more electricity to supply to neighbouring areas.

The name of Variety Hall was changed to Delite Theatre in the late 1950s, a few years after the death of Vincent.

In recent years, the theatre used to screen old movies and re-releases.

Its present owner is into imports and exports business in Kochi.

A former employee Murugesan said the theatre lacked basic maintenance and good seating. The last movie screening was in June 2023 – the 1980s Rajinikanth-starrer Manidhan.

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown had accelerated the closure. Four families who were dependent on Delite Theatre, – i.e., operator, man who issues ticket, security and conservancy worker are keeping their fingers crossed on what’s next.

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