METRO PLUS

Final fade-out

Many people remember Plaza for

Many people remember Plaza for "those lovely films" more than anything else. Peter Colaco, author of Bangalore: Tales from City and Cantonment, says he has vivid memories of "being lined up and marched off to watch Ten Commandments — with its mix of biblical allusion and little belly-dancing girls — from St. Germain's "; just as some other schools probably made their students do as well." — Photo: Murali Kumar K.  

Young lovers, post-exam revellers, large gangs of cousins, British soldiers, film buffs... Plaza theatre embraced them all in its 70-year old history, says HEMANGINI GUPTA

Bangalore: Tales from City and Cantonment

Ten Commandments

A BUNCH of NRI kids shuffle up to Plaza, just in time for what they assume will be the afternoon show. But the gates have been yanked shut, the billboards now advertise products, and a film poster has a definitive stamp on it: No Show. Hangers-around mouth now well-practised phrases, "Plaza close. No show, no show."

"But, why?" ask the bewildered kids. "Since when?"

The rest of us have followed this familiar routine of old building giving way to snazzy new commercial hub rather more closely. On May 16, Plaza downed its shutters on a 70-year old history with a screening of Meet the Fockers. Rajesh Mehar, film-lover and member of the band Thermal-and-a-Quarter, went to watch the last show.

"We used to go to Plaza after all our exams," he remembers. "It was one of the worst theatres with bad sound, rats and bad food, but there was just so much sentimentality associated with it. When I heard it was shutting down, I felt I had to go watch the last show." He describes the air of sadness permeating the rickety theatre, "more like a funeral, really" and the final attempts to capture some memory of it: people posing against the screens, clicking photographs.

Plaza's almost secretive shutdown (no one really knows what's coming up in its place or when, although the reputed Rs. 23 crore it was sold for is a much touted figure) came as a surprise to Muriel Texeira, 88.

"My, you've awakened so many old memories," she tells me, while recounting the late '30s when as a pre-teen she began frequenting the then-grand theatre.

People used to come to watch the stars; nowadays they just want action — Premchand, Paramount representative.

People used to come to watch the stars; nowadays they just want action — Premchand, Paramount representative.  

"We were never allowed to go alone; in the beginning our father would take us, then male cousins would accompany us."

It was full of "Tommies"; British soldiers, who were always looking to make friends with girls, she says. "But the soldiers were very polite, never bothered us." Young children would be given money to "go to the movies" and the boys would buy four anna tickets and save the rest for nuts, while the girls would sit in style in the eight anna seats, constantly watched by their worried brothers, checking on them.

"The seats got more expensive the further back you went, and we'd look at the box seats with such awe... we never even knew anyone there," Muriel laughs.

"But later, as an Army Officer's wife, I was sitting in those same seats! Lovely films came to Plaza and once you began watching films, the desire to keep going back just grew!"

Many people remember Plaza for "those lovely films" more than anything else. Peter Colaco, author of a book on Bangalore says he has vivid memories of "being lined up and marched off to watch Ten Commandments — with its mix of biblical allusion and little belly-dancing girls — from St. Germain's "; just as some other schools probably made their students do as well."

A. Premchand, a representative of Paramount Pictures and passionate about films, confirms that Ten Commandments did indeed have a lengthy run at Plaza: 44 straight weeks, making it the theatre's longest running movie.

Plaza captured the finest cinema right from its inception in the late '30s. Initially it was associated with MGM studios, screening legendary films such as Gone With the Wind. Later, Plaza moved on to Paramount, presenting the best of Hitchcock and a who's-who list of cine magic: Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Elvis and Jerry Lewis movies, Godfather, the Indiana Jones sagas, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, An Officer and a Gentleman, and the later Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan starting with Goldeneye.

Old-timers speak of the early days of Plaza when young officers caught a quick drink and then sauntered across to the theatre, drink in hand since it was allowed. Earlier, the theatre had a wooden floor for couples to dance.

"In Bangalore, there was no real other entertainment," Premchand says of the theatre in the '60s and '70s, "so there was a good movie-going crowd. The Saturday matinees would be really crowded, with the big Mount Carmel bus ferrying in the hostellers. Those days, people went to movies to watch the stars — Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Audrey Hepburn. Nowadays the audience just wants action."

Sadly, not many remember Plaza's salad days. Later generations remember the theatre only as a rundown building. "Those rats," they say. "That bad sound." But for many generations, Plaza was it. The best movies, an avid movie-watching crowd which knew the value of movie production and screen chemistry between the leading pair.

Generations of young people have deftly scaled compound walls to race away and grab a secret film in pre-cell phone days when your parents didn't know where you were; others have first-dated there, unwound after exam stress, made it a weekly escape from hostel confinement.

"With most of the old skyline on M.G. Road gone, what on earth would one preserve Plaza for?" asks Peter Colaco wryly. "I don't expect it to be preserved... but to just be given a decent burial because it screened some excellent films."

Falling with Plaza

Plaza has been part of some defining moments in my life. — Rajesh Mehar, film buff

Plaza has been part of some defining moments in my life. — Rajesh Mehar, film buff  

THE THREE tenants of the Plaza building: Book Cellar, Phoenix Watches and Ratandeep, the textile shop, are almost as legendary as the theatre itself. Occupying the premises for well over 20 years (Phoenix Watches, though, has been around for decades), these tenants pay relatively low rents considering the prime property they occupy. Ratandeep's S. Uttamchand Mutha, for instance, pays Rs. 15,000 for his 1,000 sq ft plot.

These tenants haven't been asked to vacate the premises or even told what construction could come up in place of Plaza. All they know is from the media reports, and so they don't have concrete alternatives lined up yet.

The vendors outside Plaza, such as the MTR softy ice-cream seller who, five years ago, took over from the Joy Ice Cream stall (probably the first softy ice-cream outlet in the city), have been given till March 31 to leave the pavement area. "We will probably move our outlet to K.R. Road," says the vendor.

Recommended for you