The Assembly Rooms in Ooty reopens

Updated - November 26, 2015 05:48 am IST

Published - November 26, 2015 12:00 am IST

A file picture of The old Assembly Rooms which came to be used as a movie hall; (right) It has recently been renovated with enhanced screening facilities.– Photos: Special arrangement

A file picture of The old Assembly Rooms which came to be used as a movie hall; (right) It has recently been renovated with enhanced screening facilities.– Photos: Special arrangement

he old Assembly Rooms in Ooty, constructed over 150 years ago, gets a nip and a tuck. Originally called Misquith’s Rooms it got its present name in 1886. It was bought by Lady Willingdon for Rs 50,000 and bequeathed to the people of Ooty in 1922 for their entertainment. From holding dances and theatre performances, the Rooms turned into a movie hall.

“The Assembly Rooms has touched almost every individual in this area,” says Mr. D. Radhakrishnan, its Honorary Secretary since 1984.

He remembers being sent by his headmaster there to nab students who had bunked school to watch a movie. “I did the same,” he laughs. The Rooms that seated 500 now has 340 pushback seats. The theatre is spacious, with digital technology for a better viewing experience and a silver screen that allows 3 D films. But Ms. Lakshmi Nathan is not a hundred per cent thrilled. She wants to know why the Victorian façade of the Assembly Rooms has not been restored. And she wonders where the beautiful double doors on the side of the building went. She is also unhappy that the space around the heritage spot has been given over to parking.

However, she does fondly remember Vadivelu Pillai a former secretary. “He would greet us, exchange pleasantries and then ensure we were comfortably seated. Our seats were fixed and we always sat at the same place,” she laughs. Mr. Radhakrishnan says there are people who wouldn’t come for a show if their regular seats were not there. So that system will continue.

Mr. Junaid Sait is sentimental too, but his connections go a little deeper. His grandfather Khan Bahadur Abdul Rahim Sait was the first Indian trustee of The Assembly Rooms after which his father, Mr. H.Y. Ali Sait was one till 2008. “I watched A Bridge too far , Papillon , and many Westerns here,” he says.

The Rooms are in 1.15 acres of prime land. “It has never been profit-oriented. But we have to generate funds for its maintenance. Ms. Archana Patnaik who was the collector then got us funds from HADP and maintenance was taken up. Along with other generous contributions we have spent about 70 Lakh on the project. The area around has been turned into parking to earn revenue. Says the present Collector Dr P. Shankar, “We wanted the movie experience to be as good as it is in the big cities. I think we have achieved it 90 per cent. We also cleaned up the space behind the theatre that was lying unused for years to be used as parking.”

The Assembly Rooms were thrown open today after they had shut in 2011 for renovation. There will soon be a gallery displaying old film paraphernalia including the Bauer projector that was used till recently.

There will also be photographs of the legends of Hollywood and Indian cinema and of the popular movie shooting haunts in the Nilgiris.

Thirty-five-year-old Deepti Anoop is excited. “I am looking forward to the done up theatre. There is little else to do in Ooty, especially on Saturday nights. I am relieved there will be movies there again after so many years of it being shut down.”

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