The heydays of Bangalore’s movie halls

thanks to aajkaarjun…

If there was one city in the newly independent India that was a real moviegoer’s delight, it had to be Bangalore. In the early ‘50s, cinema theatres in Bangalore used to show films in many languages – Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Few years later, Malayalam and Bengali movies could also be seen in morning shows. In that sense Bangalore was probably the most cosmopolitan town in the country. Such a varied taste in films was a reflection of tolerant and eclectic mindset of the natives. May be this was also the way the foundation for a pan-Indian city was being laid!

Kempe Gowda Road in the Majestic area had probably the highest number of cinema theatres per square mile in the whole country (the Grant Road area in Bombay would probably come next ). The cinema houses on KG Road included Prabhat (at the beginning of KG Road coming from Mysore Bank Square), States (opposite to Prabhat), Sagar, Kempegowda, Himalaya, Geeta and Majestic. Movieland was also in the same area .

A real modern theatre called Alankar came up on KG Road in the latter half of the ‘50s. Around that time, other theatres like Kalpana, Menaka also came up in the same area. Theatres like Abhinay, Kapali and Tribhuvan were much later additions. In the early ‘70s, the total number of theatres in the Majestic area was about 14! Today KG Road has probably only two of those old theatres left – States and Sagar.

Theatres in the Cantonment area (present day MG Road and Brigade Road) showed mostly English films except for New Opera and Empire. English film theatres included Liberty (Globe in an earlier avatar), Plaza, Rex, BRV and Imperial. Two theatres in the city area used to show older (second run) English films – Vijayalakshmi in Chikpet (which also used to give student discounts – 50 naya paise for a decent seat at the back) and Bharat Talkies on JC Road.

In the early days most of the family members used to go for night shows in the nearby Minerva Theatre where it would be invariably a movie in Telugu, Tamil or Kannada. We would just walk back at one in the morning, after the film ended. Bharat and Shivaji Theatres were also not far from our Basavanagudi home. There was also Paramount in the city market square.

Basavanagudi got its own theatres like Nanda, Shanti, Swagat in the early ‘ 70s; Uma, and Apsara came up nearby around the same time. There were also several theatres in Malleshwaram like Swastik, Sampige etc. which however were outside our beat.

Recounting the names of theatres and the place they adorned is only half of the story. Films were really a very important part of our growing up. It widened our horizons as no other medium did. Books would do it much later but seeing a film at that age was a very rich experience. At first, it gave us familiarity with languages which were not spoken at home. Especially Hindi and English films showed a life which was still outside our social milieu. Further, English films showed a world which we had only heard of. Since it was also the language of our erstwhile masters made us very keen to learn it well, and learn it fast.

The earliest films one saw were all in bits. As children, we used to go along in our car to bring back adults from theatres. Thus, at times, we got to see part of the action at the very end. One of the films I remember seeing that way was Anandamath with its great nationalist song Vande Mataram. I remember going to Prabhat Theatre once when some film was over and my sister and her friends were waiting in the manager’s room to see actor Dev Anand. Incidentally, the theatre owed its name to the great director Shantaram’s movie company.

The first films we were allowed to see by ourselves were invariably in the nearby theatres. This meant a Telugu or Tamil or Kannada movie at the Minerva theatre (near Lalbagh). There were very few films in Kannada in the earlier years. One remembers films like Jatakaphala and Schoolmaster ( the inspiration behind the recent Baagban). However, the kannada filmdom started seeing better days with Raj Kumar’s Bedara Kannappa.

Our next foray as we started growing up was into Hindi films. Since Hindi was being talked about as the national language of the new nation, it was quite natural that we wanted to be proficient in it. And independent India did come up with some great Hindi films in the first two decades. There were idealistic films like Ek hi rasta (widow remarriage), Sadhana (prostitution), Naya Daur ( man vs. machine), Do ankhe barah hath (reformation of prisoners), Sujata (untouchability), Jagte raho (the rural innocence vs. the evil city) etc. The perceived idealism of Nehru and a regular dose of such films helped us in acquiring liberal roots.

There were also films very tastefully produced like Madhumati, Jhanak jhanak payal baje, Chalti ka naam gadi, Kagaz ke phool etc. These films would make us appreciate the classics of western cinema at a much later date. Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Vaijayanti Mala, Nutan etc. were the unforgettable Hindi film stars from those days. Added to it were greats of the Telugu and Tamil films like Nageshwara Rao, Savithri, Bhanumathi, Shivaji Ganeshan, MGR, Padmini etc. One shudders to think, but it is true that all our ideas of love and romance started from seeing these actors in films in the most impressionable times of our lives !

Going to see an English language film was a real event since at first it mostly meant going to Cantonment area which itself was a cause for celebration. Seeing an English language film was not complete without eating popcorn or nut bars. Then there was the mandatory coffee at the India Coffee House or the Parade Café. Talking to waiters in English was also part of the ritual!

One of my first great English movies was A Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Seeing her in greater and greater roles in the coming years was like watching a childhood friend moving on to greater heights. Little later, there were movies like A Bridge on the river Kwai and The Ten Commandments (screen at Plaza). The latter movie had two intervals and I remember people taking food from home so that they could last for three and odd hours. The present day Hollywood has yet to come up with actors to match some of the giants of those years.

These are my memories as a young boy and a teenager. As I left the teens, I also left Bangalore in the early ‘60s. In my occasional returns to the city, I would hear of the demolition of one old theatre or the other. I even remember being in the city when one venerable theatre was demolished in the thick of the night. Thus, our erstwhile classrooms where we had learnt the ways of life were all disappearing !

Today most of the big theatres have disappeared making room, not for new theatres, but for shops and malls. Compared to those giant theatres of the past, the multiplexes amount only to a bigger drawing room. Thus, the great experience of savoring and sharing delectable moments on the screen with hundreds of people in a huge theatre is now a thing of the past. The collective sigh of relief which would reverberate through the auditorium when the hero saves the heroine from the villain is a memory only for the earlier generation .

29 Responses to “The heydays of Bangalore’s movie halls”

  1. this has been a theater day on the blog thanks in no small part to Aajkararjun..


  2. Thanks to all of you guys. This is a real treat especially for someone who has little to offer to this history…


  3. Qalandar Says:
    September 28, 2009 at 3:14 PM e

    This was a wonderful read aajkaarjun, thanks for posting!

    I knew Bangalore was a great city today in which to watch films from a number of languages, I hadn’t realized that had begun as far back as the 1950s…


  4. 🙂

    One last post before I log off

    Bollywood: Love rekindled
    by – Madhu Rao

    During a Bollywood Movie Night at a friend’s house, I was once punched in the arm with some viciousness and surprising strength by an otherwise gentle colleague. Her ire was clearly raised by my doubling over with laughter, sparked by the acting of the movie’s hero, Rishi Kapoor. In trying to convey his deep yearning for the female protagonist through an inspired song, Kapoor seemed caught in the throes of what appeared to be a post-coital cramp � his body tragically trapped between the ecstasy of a verse well rendered and the agony of depleted electrolytes.

    But I’ve been watching a lot of Hindi movies lately here in Bangalore, and I’m beginning to remember why, like a billion or so other people, I was so obsessed with them in my twenties. There is a heartwarming earnestness to the films that is endearing. If you can put aside cynicism and abandon logic for a time, they become quite addictive. And, of course, the fact you can always fast-forward through 70% of the movie without losing track of the plot, makes for highly efficient entertainment.

    The Indian adoration of Bollywood cinema is a national love affair that cuts across all income groups, religions, and education levels, and has remained unchanged from when I was growing up in Delhi. In those days, I would head to the local theater every few weeks for the latest Bollywood blockbuster, praying that there would be at least one ticket left by the time I got to the counter. After three and half hours, seven love songs, three car chases, two dream sequences, eighteen brutal murders, and one impassioned plea for motherly forgiveness, the credits would roll and I would emerge with 500 others, appreciating an afternoon well spent.
    The blockbuster new release, Ghajini, playing at a traditional cinema hall on Lalbagh Road in Bangalore

    Though I never noticed it at the time, cinema halls were the inadvertent unifiers of urban India, bringing together business tycoons, government workers, students, store owners, rickshaw drivers, and street peddlers for a shared period of suspended disbelief. And though these groups were often separated by the price of the ticket they could afford � Rs. 10 to sit in the first row, Rs. 40 to be seated in the balcony section � we all sat together in the dark for three and a half hours, mesmerized for a time by a story of eternal love and gory revenge.

    Today, cinema halls are slowly being replaced by multiplexes. While traditional movie theaters had just one movie which played four times a day, today’s multiplexes mirror those in the United States with several screens and movies in a given facility. There is a single ticket price for any seat in the house. The price ranges from Rs. 120 (~$2.50) to Rs. 250 (~$5.00) depending on the popularity of the film being screened -twice the daily wages for the majority of India’s population. No rickshaw drivers or street vendors in this theater, please.

    Last week, I had my first experience with an Indian multiplex. It was in a retail store.

    I mean this literally, as if Nordstroms or Macy’s had pushed their Men’s Wear and Kitchen Appliances to a back storage room and opened a three-screen movie theater next to Women’s Lingerie.

    Uniformed theater personnel with embroidered multiplex logos on their navy blue blazers guide you from floor to floor, past Perfumes and Colognes, through the Shoe Department, and beyond Home Furnishings until you arrive at the ticket counter. I stare, stupefied, at the four 32″ plasma screens continuously looping through screening times and prices for various movies, the food court selling popcorn, French fries, and chocolate cake, the armed guards amorously frisking patrons as they walk through metal detectors, and the words spring softly and unbidden to my lips�

    “What the f*#k?”

    Now, I’ve pretty much given up swearing since my son was four (there was an unfortunate incident in which he marched about his daycare chanting a nasty little expletive which he claimed he learned from me) but I feel this situation warranted a modicum of profanity in response to the transformation of a beloved institution.

    I stopped by the refreshments counter and picked up a grilled vegetable sandwich, a diet Coke, and a slice of black forest cake, and then meandered around the theater watching song sequences on big screen TVs in the lobby. When it was time for the movie, we were ushered into the theater and seated in plush reclining chairs with built-in cup holders. If not for the Hindi film on the screen and the sari-clad woman discreetly pulling aaloo-pooris out of her purse to my right, I could have been at the Regal Crossroads Cinema in Bellevue, WA. I still enjoyed the movie, but the overall experience seemed a bit too organized, a bit too smooth. It was, for want of a better word, sterile.

    Sometime next week, I’m going to go for another movie, but this time, I’ll do it old skool. I’m going to find a run-down theater on the outer edges of Bannerghatta Road. I’ll fight to buy a 20-cent ticket in the first row and buy some samosas to take in with me. And then, I’ll sit there with a beedi-smoking autorickshaw driver watching a 40-foot Shah Rukh Khan tearfully apologize to his mother, and escape for three and a half hours from the selective economic miracle that is modern India.


    • Thanks so much aajkaarjun.. this exemplifies a great deal of what I feel for sure! In general though your Bangalore post has really made my day. It’s wistful, moving and yet also gives one a very significant chunk of Bangalore life by way of its historic theaters. I wish there were similar pieces on all the major Indian cities and their movie houses. But as you know the kind of loss expressed here is also particularly close to my entire set of concerns when it comes to Indian cinema. But this newer piece you’re referenced is also a perfect complement to the earlier one.


  5. Wonderful piece Aajkaarjun. I have visited many of the old theaters on my summer vacation visits to Bangalore when young(and later in my professional life when I spent 7 wonderful years) and truly lament the passing away of some. RIP.

    A great tradition passes hopefully giving way to a better one? With the advent of multiplexes it is so much more easier to exhibit movies from all over the place and hopefully the chain owners realise this and offer it to people. Bangalore has certainly become all the more cosmopolitan in the last 20 years or so and deserves to carry on with its cinema watching tradition. In the olden days Banglore was said to be a test market of how well a movie would do in the urban centers/country(?)(i have read this in an article somewhere and cannot really confirm it as such). Hopefully it continues to hold aloft that tradition.


  6. Has anyone hear heard about famous ahmedabad Drive in theater??

    its the best in india.. still runs to pack houses as we ahmedabadis love it as picnic spot on weekends..

    rajen had u seen drive in of course u would have .. right na


  7. Thanks guys

    I am collecting images of old movie theaters of Bangalore..Will post it shortly


  8. Hi aajkaarjun:

    Great post. You made my day. It took me back to Bangalore days. Visisted most of the theatres you have mentioned in teh post.
    But you missed – Santosh, Nartaki, Sapna which are in the same complex next to Alankar. Amitji movies always used to play at Santosh.
    Santosh theater was one of the prime ones in KG road. All the major releases would try to get there to get attention and crowds. A remember a Dr Rajkumar’s kannda movie ‘Hallu-Jenu” ( meanining Honey and Milk) which was released in early 80’s had huhe cutout of Dr Raj. I guess it was 100 feet cut-out and people came in loads to see that and the movie as well. Satyam, Q would be glad to see that poster and rushes. I tried in google to but with no luck. Tamil movies were always had their rin in the southern parts of Bangalore at Malleswaram area where you Sampaige, Natraj, Geetanjali and Central theater. Mani Rathnam’s ‘Nayakan’ and ‘Agni Naksthram’ had 50 week runs at Natraj.
    Awaiting for more pictures from your end.


  9. Hey Rajesh, Its not by me..I just provided the link 🙂

    Kino, Santosh, Nartaki, Sapna, Tribhuvan, Kailash, Kalpana, Aparna, Triveni,
    Prabhat , States , Sagar, Kempegowda, Himalaya, Geeta Majestic. Movieland ,Alankar, Abhinay, Kapali , Menaka, Abhinay….

    Around 25 movie halls within one mile vicinity 🙂


  10. Thanks a ton Satyam for bringing these threads..never been so happy in my blogging history 🙂


  11. Seating arrangement of Elgin Talkies


  12. p.r.vishwanath Says:

    Glad to know of the interest in my article on Bangalore Cinemas. thanks – Palahalli vishwanath


  13. The most fascinating things in the 70′ and 80’s were the Drive in Theatre, where only those who had cars could go and then there was Abhinaya theatre on/off KG Road, Abhinaya theatre was the first theatre or maybe even the first building in Bangalore which had an escalator.


  14. Not sure how many of you know this in the mid 70’s Bangalore had a drive-in theater as well on Bannerghatta Road where it has now made way for IBS Tech park. The climax of AnanthNag-Arathi movie Premayana was shot here.


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