Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bangalore cinemas

Nataraj Theater (courtesy: Flickr)

The times were clearly in favor of standalone theaters in Bangalore; a time when multiplexes were an unheard of phenomenon.  A building hosted a single theater that could withstand a capacity of about six hundred or more people easily.  There was a clear demarcation between the first class and the balcony tickets.  Just like the categories bestowed by the Indian railways, first class seating was second best in this case as well.  The balcony tickets were the premium priced tickets and people clamored well in advance to get the special seats.  It was priced more not without a reason.  It was a good ten or twenty feet above the supposedly inferior seating arrangement, and the viewers seated in this area did not have to crane their necks to catch the reel life heroes in action.

Plaza (courtesy: Flickr)
Like today, the nineties too believed in location centric charges.  A theater in a good location charged a price that was directly proportional to the favored environment, coupled with the coolness factor.  As far as Bangalore was concerned, MG road, Brigade road and Residency road evoked the oomph factor to draw crowds from distant places to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood superstars on the big screen.  At that time, theaters in these areas were the only ones to screen latest English movies.  With the passage of time, these theaters started screening Hindi movies as well.  If the Plaza bagged the rights to screen True Lies, The Ghost and the Darkness and the James Bond 007 sequels, Galaxy took the prize catch of Titanic, The Independence Day and Baby's day out; Rex was not left far behind with The Fugitive, The Cliff Hanger, Air Force One and MIB, while Symphony (or the Shankar Nag theater as is called now) covered Face Off and a host of Jackie Chan movies.  Interspersed in the middle of all these movies, the box office duds used to make their presence felt as well.  All that I was concerned about the English movies were the action sequences, and the ability to enact that power studded action with my brother at home.

Brigade Road (courtesy: Flickr)
Rex (courtesy: Flickr)
 I liked the Plaza since it was situated in the heart of MG Road (If you can call MG Road as the heart of Bangalore city, the strategic location of the Plaza was like the pulmonary vein or you can say like the heart of the heart), and almost next to Gangarams Book Bureau, one of my favorite spots in the area.  A few paces away from Plaza was the Higginbothams, the oldest book store of Bangalore, and next to it was the Deccan Herald, the newspaper that served us daily news for almost two decades.  There was also a popcorn counter at the entrance of the Plaza and I remember a packet of it being sold for as less as Rs 3.50.  I am not sure how much it costs now.  Of course, the Lake View ice cream parlor at a walking distance induced a sense of craving for their famous Lake View specialSymphony too was located on the MG Road and a few meters from Plaza, but I have very few experiences of having watched movies here as compared to the other theaters in the area.  But, then, I vividly remember watching John Travolta and Nicholas Cage in the Face Off.  On Brigade Road was Rex, which I thought was really a cool and classy theater, though my friends chide me saying that that's the smallest of the theaters in the area.  Located right opposite to the Wimpies and housing the Nilgiris, it was well placed to attract the college crowd.  Galaxy was less superior compared to the other theaters, but that never stopped the cinema frenzy public from catching up with the movies here.  In fact, we came to the Galaxy after our I PUC (eleventh grade) exams to view the sinking of the Titanic.  It was the biggest movie of the time.  Located on the Residency Road was also the Imperial theater and the sleazy posters did attract momentarily when passing by in the local bus. 

Santosh (courtesy: Flickr)
In the main Majestic area, there were a few theaters catering to the local language as well as Hindi and Telugu movies.  I have hardly watched any Kannada movies in the theater, but I frequented the area for the Hindi movies.  The Majestic area derives its name from the Majestic theater(I have never been to this one) located here.  Sangam, opposite to the main bus stand, was a well known theater, mainly for the titillating posters.  In the crowded   Kempegowda Road (KG Road) were quite a few theaters, and the ones that I normally visited were Santosh, Sapna and Sagar.  During the time I was in Engineering, the balcony tickets were priced at around Rs 45/- and was at least twice less costly than the MG road theaters.  The longest running movie during the time was Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, which had the "House Full" tag after even almost a year.  Madhuri Dixit has no equivalent in today's Hindi cinema.   

 Bangalore has always been a cosmopolitan city in true sense, and there was always a clamor for good movies, irrespective of the language.  So, I never missed out on good Tamil movies. Rajinikanth, Kamalhassan, Captain and a host of others always received a good audience, irrespective of reviews and feedback.  Most of the Tamil movies were watched at the intersection of Seshadripuram and Malleswaram, which housed quite a few movie theaters.  Any Tamil speaking guy from the Northern part of Bangalore will know Nataraj, Sampige, Central and Kino talkies.  Sampige primarily catered to the Kannada cinegoers.  Nataraj theater would be the hub of activities during a major release.  There were all sorts of fan clubs loitering the area, and the huge posters of Rajini, Kamal, Ajith, Surya and Vijay were garlanded multiple times from head to foot.  Watching movies in these theaters was an experience in itself.  The tickets were priced at a low point (Rs 30 for a balcony ticket), and the nearby Tamil population, mainly from the local shop owners, and daily wage workers frequented this place.  At the time of a big release, sale of tickets in the open market (or to say "tickets in black") was a common fare.  I would be warned at home to beware of "moota poochi" (bugs) sticking on to the clothes, and that always meant a quick shower after getting back from late night shows in these theaters.  Kino was never a preferred theater, and that was because there was no clear demarcation between the first class and the balcony seats.  Central was in shambles during that time itself, so it comes as no surprise that it was shut down a few years ago.  Kino, too, is no longer in existence.  We also frequented Cauvery at Bashyam circle, and the chaat shop outside the theater was awesome.

Today, a lot of these theaters do exist, but many of them are on the brink of conversion to big shopping malls and multiplexes for obvious financial reasons.  The renovation work means a single theater being replaced by several theaters of smaller seating capacities offering improved service and charging higher ticket prices.  There is no way one can see a Rajini poster being garlanded outside the multiplex.  That will always be an atmosphere impossible to replicate in the multiplexes, and to say the least, a very unique experience.


  1. ha. good one! I am tempted to do a post like this for Madras.

  2. Hi Praveen,

    Thanks a lot for taking me back to bangalore theatres! Theatres I like most are Navrang (Rajajingar) This is the first theatre in which I watched a movie for the first time in life, and the second one is Gitanjali (Malleswaram circle). Now I don't know whether these theatres are existing or not?


  3. Thanks, Mr. Mohan!
    I think Navrang still exists, but I don't think Geetanjali is there!

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