Curtains Down

BY ZOHRA FATIMA

Life is a drama and we are all actors. Idiosyncratic to our personalities we play a myriad of roles, we wear masks, we camouflage and we create situations. The story of our life is shaped by the perspective through which we view ourselves in relation to our circumstances. Deeming life through the lens of other people from time to time and discarding ours for a short while is what is gives us new and fresh standpoints. We are transported to another world forgetting our realities for the time being.

Movies have been the most loved form of entertainment for us Indians. In a country that is an exotic assortment of cultures with its people speaking over 100 languages, there is a film made for everyone. But there was a small section of the society who had a taste for English Cinema in the country. These people lived in the cosmopolitan cities of India.

The acquired taste for English Cinema by a few was due to the colonization of idyllic places for leisure by the Europeans. There were more than five theatres in the cantonment area- the heart of Bangalore city, just a stone’s throw away from each other. Tickets had to be bought in advance for the balcony stall as the halls were mostly houseful. The balcony was an expensive affair, first-class affordable, the middle and the Gandhi class dint burn a hole in one’s pocket. This was the beautiful theatre-going experience that blended all classes of people under one roof and wasn’t just reserved for those living in the lap of luxury in an era where entertainment was scarce.

The Rex Theatre on Brigade Road churned out 80 long years of fine cinema in partnership with 20th Century Fox and Columbia. Rex was built in the 1930s. The curtain was majestically dropped after screening its last show on December 31st, 2018. Rex for me as a child was a string of memories. We spent countless hours lounging in my uncle’s car in the cinema’s parking lot. He owned the food stalls in the theatre. Every time we accompanied him somewhere, we had to pitstop at Rex until he oversaw the interval. We were forced to cool our heels in his Premier 118NE, watching the hustle-bustle, while munching on popcorn, sipping cold Pepsi while shooing away mosquitos on warm summer evenings, and finally dozing off until the last show ended after midnight, before heading home.

Rex was the last cinema to be demolished in the archipelago of cinemas in and around MG Road. Its longest screening movies were ‘The Cliff Hanger’ and ‘The Return of the Dragon’. From playing 2 shows it went on to play even 7 shows before it was closed. Rex was also the first theatre in Bangalore to introduce the DTS sound system, which was devised by the Indian Institute of Science. In one of his interviews for a daily, Anil Kapoor the owner reminiscences – that the early Rex had fans underneath each seat instead of air conditioners, which posed a problem to Anglo Indian ladies who wore their finest skirts to the movies. Their dresses would fly up if they didn’t keep them in place. The theatre then was renovated to resolve this issue and proper ACs were installed in 1971.

In the name of development, the other theatres which were demolished were Blu Moon and Blue Diamond, both shut their doors in 1994. The galaxy which used to play Bollywood movies after its long stint with the English cinema was brought down in 2002 and in its place stands a massive working space with plush offices boasting world-class amenities.

The metro station on MG Road now stands on a fossil of memories of the Plaza theatre. It was designed to resemble the Piccadilly circus in London. The movie ‘Ten Commandments’ was screened successfully for 44 weeks in this theatre. Plaza had a famed association with MGM Studios and Paramount Pictures.

Symphony theatre had to its credit of running a colourized copy of gone with the wind. The cinema changed several names and screens before it finally re-opened as Shankarnag Swagat boasting of its one-of-a-kind onyx cinema LED screen installed by Samsung. The only theatre, that continues to be a theatre.

How can one forget the salient Opera house, that stood for years at an intersection of Brigade and Residency Road, remorsefully fighting a legal battle while watching the demise of its neighbours? The Opera house was used to host ballroom dances and opera shows by the Britishers in its glory days and later was converted to a theatre. Samsung has now turned into an innovation Hub. Due to public demand, the original design was retained while renovating its worn-out classical wooden interiors. Today, it’s a showcase of futuristic technology known as the Samsung Opera House. As the single screen lovers begrudgingly made a transition to multiplexes, leaving behind the warmth and cosiness of these iconic theatres of Bangalore along with the affability of the people who gathered to watch movies in these places, the present generation knows nothing other than fancy multiplexes and e-tickets, left completely bereft of the excitement that came with buying a seat off the black market to woo your loved one or standing in the long queue famous for that Friday-first day, first show.

Zohra Fathima is a teetotaller, a photography aficionado and a nature lover. Right now she’s very busy living her life through the eyes of her feisty 2-year-old. She’s also a baker at heart and a writer by accident.