Note- As another single screen bites the dust, I am forced to re-visit my series on single screen cinemas, which for some reason got discontinued earlier than intended. Just couple of days ago news of the closure of Sri Krishna Talkies/Cinema in Kalyan ( Thane District for those unaware ) came in. Single screen cinemas are now an endangered species, here’s hoping they don’t become extinct altogether.
In this age of multiplexes and with everybody reminiscing about their favorite movies and music, it’s very imperative for a filmy like me to think of the memorable moments I’ve spent across countless single screen theatres and cineplexes over the years across the country. In fact I would even go to the extent of saying that these “temples of cinema” have played a large role in building up my passion for cinema. Hence I would like to dedicate this series to all the single screen theatres and cineplexes across India. So here I go with the first article of the series and I begin my journey with Kolkata’s Priya Cinema.
Traditionally movie watching in Kolkata has always been a special experience. Be it Menoka,Priya,Basushree or any other hall in South Kolkata or Nandan ( one of the highlights of Kolkata) or theatres in central Kolkata like Metro,Roxy,Lighthouse,Hind,Paradise etc they all stand apart for the uniqueness that they hit you with. For example where else in India do you see most of the theatres without a parking lot (parking is on the pavement outside the theatre) and this includes good theatres like Menoka,Priya,Basushree etc. Where else in India can you find theatres with a bar attached – don’t believe me? Well then go check out Roxy or New Empire and you would have to agree with what I say.
This brings me to Priya Cinema, my 2nd home in Kolkata. I found Priya to be a very well maintained theatre with its unique blend of old world charm & modern technology. While waiting to book your tickets or before your show begins, the lobby is an interesting place to while away your time. Apart from the stills of movies currently running and the forthcoming attractions, you also get to see the display of photographs of celebrities who’ve visited the theatre and mind you, the list is endless- it’s a virtual who’s who of Bollywood and the Bengali film industry. There is also a vintage car kept in the display(forgot the make of the car but I hope it’s still there) . One of the good things about the theatre is its location. Situated right next to the well known Deshapriya Park on Rash Behari Avenue, it’s easily accessible to everyone especially in South Kolkata.
I considered myself to be extremely lucky because both my home (near Triangular Park) and my office (on Panditia Road) were less than a 5 minute drive from the theatre. Along with Menoka, Priya was the other first choice for cinegoers in South Kolkata. But what differentiated Priya from Menoka and the other theatres in that area or rather even Kolkata was that the management of Priya had a vision of making the theatre as a family destination which would rival even the multiplexes and hold its own in spite of the mall/multiplex wave. So they were quick to embrace technology- be it in the form of computerized reservation at the ticket counter or online booking. Also the most important fact to be noted was that while Menoka and the other better theatres were mainly screening Bollywood movies alone, Priya tried to provide variety by screening not only Hindi but also English and the artistic Bengali movies.So much so that it’s remarkable for a single screen theatre that they managed to be showing 3-4 movies in different languages at the same time. The seating was also quite unique- while the rear stall (or first class as people elsewhere might understand) had the plastic “Bucket” seats with cushions on it, the balcony had really plush push back seats which were as good or better than the seats in the multiplexes.
In fact because the quality of viewing was good at Priya,in terms of pricing of tickets, it used to be at a premium over the other single screens. To give you an indicator let me tell you that while a few years back balcony seats in single screens in Kolkata used to be @ Rs.35 for a Hindi movie & Rs.25 for a Bengali movie, in case of Priya, the balcony was @ Rs.80 and the rear stall was @ Rs.40. But nobody really objected because they knew that Priya was competing with the multiplexes and also provided variety . That Priya had state of the art sound system and effective air conditioning is of course something that one would have understood by now (for those who are interested -Priya has Dolby Digital and DTS sound systems and has both Xenon projector and Qube digital projection systems). I believe that the current ticket prices have shot up to 140, 120 and 90 (classic, executive and rear class) but are still attractive when compared to the multiplexes in Kolkata.
With my home and office being so close by, naturally Priya became my 2nd home. So looking back I think I probably must have watched maybe a couple of movies every week over there. The movies were of all kinds be it Hollywood movies like The Passion of the Christ,Spiderman-2, Harry Potter etc or Bollywood movies like Masti, Yuva, Lakshya etc or even Bengali movies like Iti Srikanto, I would be there to build upon my passion for cinema. I remember having watched 3 Amitabh Bachchan’s movies over 3 successive weekends (Dev, Lakshya and Deewar) and also having watched a few Tamil movies in a Tamil film festival held over there. One of my funniest incidents in Kolkata which still makes me laugh when I think of it, happened in Priya Cinema.
It was a Sunday afternoon & I had just finished watching a noon show (do not remember the movie though) and while I was about to start my bike, the parking attendant (yeah the car’s and bikes are parked in the pavement next to the theatre but you still need to pay for parking ) came up to me and asked me for the parking charge. At that time it used to be Rs.5 for a bike. To my dismay I observed that I had only a 2 rupee coin and a 100 rupee note with me & so showed the same to the attendant. That was when he smiled at me & said- “are koi baat nahin sir, aap to regular ho yahan.agle hafte jab aayenge to 5 rupye de dena agar yaad rahega”. That’s when I realized how the theatre had gone on to become my 2nd home while I lived there.
The more I think I remember a lot of incidents- of many “interesting dates” ,of taking refuge from the rain, of watching even silly movies like Tarzan-The Wonder Car just because I had nothing better to do etc. The list is long and probably endless.I was in Kolkata recently for a day and was surprised to see that the number of multiplexes has increased and there is even an IMAX in Mani Square. I just hope that these multiplexes do not make the people forget the joy of watching movies in places like Nandan,Priya,Menoka etc where movie watching was more of a tradition and an enjoyable activity. These theatres represent not only the good old days of Kolkata but also symbolize the blend of the past with the present. I for one would surely revisit a Priya or a Nandan whenever I can.
Note- Originally written as part of a series on Single Screen Theatres across India in 2009, this post has now been re-edited. The intent is to cover single screens across various prominent cities in India as the author has lived and travelled extensively in the country. Stay tuned for the next part of the series which will come up soon.