These structures stood out in our cities at one time. Decked with movie posters, the iconic single-screen theatres or talkies, are slowly disappearing from our country’s landscape. There was something special about a single-screen theatre, screening either Bollywood or Hollywood movies. About the soft drink in small fountain cups or glass bottles, and the generic popcorn.
At that time, if you were unlucky, you’d have to shell out more than the ticket amount, to buy it in ‘black’, if legitimate tickets were sold out. In any case, single-screen theatres shaped our society in more ways than one.
These eight iconic single-screen movie halls from across India are reminiscent of that era.
1. Maratha Mandir, Mumbai Central, Mumbai:-
This iconic movie hall screened the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge’, for 20 years, from 1995 to 2015. The first movie that was played here was the 1958 classic ‘Sadhna’, featuring Sunil Dutt and Vyjayanthimala, the year the hall opened. Another Bollywood classic, ‘Mughal-E-Azam’, was premiered here and ran here for a full six years. The theatre has truly seen some glorious days. To celebrate occasions, elephants and horses made an appearance, and Dilip Kumar once made a remarkable entry on a horse.
2. Lighthouse, Kolkata:-
This movie theatre was established in 1934 for screening Hollywood movies. It had a 70-year streak of being one of the most popular cinemas in Kolkata. One of the largest movie halls in India, it had a seating capacity of 1,396, which was later reduced to 600. The theatre is located in Humayun Place in New Market, a thriving shopping and street-food destination. Lighthouse started suffering heavy losses after 2000, and in February 2002, the management decided to close the hall. Lighthouse shut its doors for good on 22nd February 2002.
3. Liberty, Churchgate, Mumbai:-
This theatre is special because it was built in 1947, the year of India’s independence. The first movie to hit its screens was the Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Raj Kapoor starrer ‘Andaz’. One of Mumbai’s last art-deco theatres, it had a seating capacity of around 1,200. When the era of multiplexes dawned, Liberty found itself struggling, and space was given out to film shoots, musicals and stage events. It was only in 2016 that Liberty re-invented itself by installing a new sound system, a new projector and a silver screen as well as implementing an e-payment system for buying anything from tickets to refreshments.
4. Everest Talkies, Bengaluru:-
A major landmark in Bengaluru’s bustling Frazer Town area, this hall is more than 80 years old, the oldest in Bengaluru, and one of the last surviving examples of its kind. Today, India’s IT capital may have state-of-the-art multiplexes, but Everest is where it all started. The theatre belongs to one family with whom it has been since 1968. The theatre was originally built in 1932. Over the years, the theatre has lost its sheen, yet today, it still attracts audiences, as it is one of the only theatres that screens documentaries! In 2008, Everest got a much-needed facelift, and now screens Hindi, English and Kannada releases regularly.
5. Minerva Theatre, Mumbai:-
This hall is special, as its history is intertwined with one of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters, ‘Sholay’. The film hit screens on 15th August 1975, and Minerva ran the movie for five straight years, from 1975 to 1980, with fans turning up in large numbers day after day. Minerva was founded in the late 1960s, and refurbished in the 1970s. The first movie to screen here after refurbishment was ‘Lal Patthar’ in 1971. Almost all big films at the time would hold their grand premier at Minerva, and the manager Sushil Mehra told LiveMint, that he remembers every big star from Amitabh Bachchan, to Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra and Hema Malini, walking down the portals of Minerva theatre.
6. Sheila Cinema, Delhi:-
This iconic movie theatre downed its shutters in April 2017, after failing to secure the rights to screen ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’. Uday Kaushik, the owner of the cinema, told Hindustan Times that the plans for shutting the movie hall were on for quite a while. The legendary movie was established in January 1961 and was the first cinema in the country to have a 70 mm screen. The owners wanted to turn Sheila into a multiplex with ten screens, but that would take time shared Kaushik.
7. Polo Victory Cinema, Jaipur:-
This cinema hall bears a close connection with the sport it is named after. India won the Polo World Cup in 1933, and the owner of Polo Victory Cinema went to England with the Indian team in the same year, and to commemorate it, he created the eponymous cinema hall. The hall was interestingly inaugurated by Lord Mountbatten and was so popular that audiences had to wait for tickets for as long as 30 days. The cinema hall is close to Sindhi Camp bus station and was one of the first cinemas in the city to be renovated as per multiplex culture.
8. Sangeet Theatre, Hyderabad:-
This iconic cinema hall was constructed in 1969, and was ahead of its time, back in the day, thanks to the Ultra Stereo Optical Sound in 1994, a Digital Theatre System in 1995, and later the Xenon Lamp Projection with Platter System. The Hollywood classic ‘Camelot’ was the first film screened in the theatre, and the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Hum Aapke Hai Koun..!’ which released in 1994 was screened here for the entire year. Other legendary movies that Sangeet screened included ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Titanic’.
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Since their glory days, some of these cinemas have closed down, while others have been converted into multiplexes. However, we shall never forget the days of the single-screen theatres, and all that they had to offer!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)