While we have cases of single screen cinemas closing down like Krishna Talkies at Kalyan ( Thane District ) recently, we also sometimes get to hear of surprises. One such recent example is the erstwhile Prabhat Talkies at Thane being re-opened as a swanky single screen-Gold Cinema, which aims to provide multiplex comfort to the single screen audience. In the first part of my single screen cinema series, I had written about Priya Cinema, Kolkata and now this time I head south, all the way to Coimbatore. Well for the sake of those who aren’t familiar with Coimbatore, let me tell you that it’s one of the best cities in South India and of course a fairly cosmopolitan city with a good mix of educational institutions and industries.
Well of course I’m here to talk about cinema and theatres, so let me start off by telling you all that Coimbatore generally has had a tradition of good theatres and cineplexes which play the regular Tamil,English,Hindi & Malayalam movies. In fact Delite Theatre ( the erstwhile Variety Hall Cinema ) in Coimbatore bears the distinction of being the 1st ever cinema hall in the whole of South India.Apsara Theatre has been one such single screen theatre which has been popular over the years and has been a favorite haunt of mine at various periods. The theatre which was located at Dr.Nanjappa Road, Gandhipuram has an interesting history in terms of the movies played over there.
Operational since the late 1970’s the theatre started off primarily screening Hindi andEnglish Movies with the odd Tamil movies also getting released in between. This trend continued till the mid 80’s. Suddenly the flow of Hindi movie releases stopped and then the theatre started playing soft porn movies and the only exceptions in this period were the Jackie Chan & Jet Li movies as the theatre had started building up a good fan base for these movies. The only other theatre in town competing for the martial arts movies was Maruti in R.S.Puram. So due to the advent of soft porn and action movies the family audience started staying away from the theatre. Many a times over the years the management tried to unsuccessfully restore the pride of the old days and the two main attempts made were in the early 90’s when you had a spate of Hindi releases like Dil,Hum,Saajan etc followed by the mid 90’s with Jeet,Yaarana etc.
But what the management lacked was patience. Since they had lost considerable family audiences, to bring them back in hordes required consistency in screening the right kind of movies (Hindi). But what happened was that usually seeing the crowd not really matching up to their expectation they would revert back to playing soft porn movies in between to make up some collection and so they could never really bring back the family crowd in its entirety. But every cloud has a silver lining and Apsara Theatre too received a shot in the arm during Diwali in 1997. Surprisingly they managed to screen Dil To Pagal Hai. With DTPH they managed to bring in initially the college crowd and eventually the family crowd. This time they realized that they needed to be patient and consistent and thus brought out a steady stream of Hindi releases. So a year down the line for Diwali in 1998, as they screened Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, they had firmly established their status as a premium Hindi movie releasing theatre. From then on they never had to look back in terms of changing the kind of movies to be released.
So why am I writing specifically about Apsara and not about any other theatre in Coimbatore? Well not only is the history mentioned earlier so interesting, I have also had a lot of interesting experiences over there over the years. The theatre in itself had an awesome structure and of course one of the largest parking spaces that I have seen across theatres in India. But on the day KKHH released in 1998 there was a near stampede at night as people rushed to get in after a long wait outside the gates. On that day even the large parking space seemed to look insufficient . The theatre also boasted of one of the largest balcony areas among theatres in India both in terms of space as well as the number of seats ( 500 +) . In fact the theatre’s structure had an odd incline in such a way that if you are sitting in one of the top rows of the balcony, you actually are looking down at the screen (the screen would be below eye level). Aurora Cinema at Matunga,Mumbai is another place which has a similar balcony feature ( screen below eye level if you are sitting in the top rows of the balcony ).
Another odd factor about the theatre has been its pricing. On various occasions the theatre was found to be the highest priced theatre in town. In the mid 1990’s when soft porn movies were still being played there, an Indo U.S co-production called Divine Lovers released there. Now for those unaware, Divine Lovers was an English movie set in India ( directed by B.Subash of Disco Dancer fame )with a reincarnation theme and did very well in India especially in the South. At that time while tickets in all the other good theatres in the city were priced at around Rs.25, in case of Apsara it was at Rs.35. One particular Friday I was shocked to see an ad in the newspaper, the ad was of Apsara theatre and it boldly said ‘on the occasion of the successful completion of 75 days of Divine Lovers, we are pleased to inform our patrons that we have now reduced our ticket prices, so now come and enjoy the movie once again.’ The ticket prices were reduced from 35 to 25.
Again when the AIADMK Government in T.N in the early 2000’s introduced flexi pricing of tickets ( in the first 2 weeks of release the theatres could charge a premium for the tickets and then revert back to original rates from the 3rd week onwards), Apsara was quick to take advantage of the situation. The theatre management felt that they had a loyal audience for the movies who wouldn’t mind paying a premium and so while the rest of the theatres charged around 40-50 for a balcony, the ticket rates in Apsara were at Rs.70 in the first 2 weeks of a movie’s release. This trend continued for quite some time till the DMK came to power in 2006 & decided to remove the flexi pricing system. I remember watching a lot of Hindi movies while in school like Hum,Ghayal,Dil etc over here. While in college a lot of ‘engrossing’ movies were also seen over here. Again with Hindi movies coming back in circulation there with DTPH, it became a popular place to go on dates. On many an occasion during the night show one would normally find most of my college friends over here (most of them drunk of course ) and since my folks were elsewhere I would also be there almost every week. So be it a Kareeb, Major Saab, Gharwali Baharwali etc I would be there for almost all movies.
I then moved out of Coimbatore after college and after a long time happened to get posted there on work in 2004-05 and again relived a lot of old memories. This time around I hardly had company as most of my old friends were no more in town and I was staying alone. So visiting Apsara Theatre became a regular weekend routine. Be it a Bunty aur Babli, No Entry, Page 3, Dus etc, I would be there as a regular bhakt visiting his favourite temple. It so happened that when Iqbal released to rave reviews I happened to be in Hyderabad for the weekend and somehow could not watch the movie there. I did not worry because I expected the movie to be playing in Apsara and so when I was back in town on Monday morning I was happy to know that I was right. On the way from the airport to my residence I was then dismayed to know that the movie was running only in the noon show and the afternoon show slots.
Now with the weekend already over I was feeling bad as I wondered what to do. That’s when the passion for cinema gained control over me. I actually ended up going straight from home to Apsara and watching Iqbal in the noon show and then going to work after lunch. Such was the attraction that the theatre had for me. Well in the journey of life, I relocated again but still tried to follow up and know what’s playing there once in a while. Some time later to my shock I got to know that like a lot of other single screen theatres across the country, Apsara too closed down in 2006/07. Initially some people would say they would be opening soon as a renovated single screen/multiplex while others mentioned that there is a family dispute still going on. But now its just the memory associated with the iconic structure in the minds of people like me that still keeps the place alive.
Some of my other favorite theatres in Coimbatore are the twin theatres of V.R.Complex-Central and Kanakadhara, Carnatic Cinema, K.G.Cinemas and Maruti. While Maruti has completely been going downhill over the last few years, the others are doing quite well. Before Apsara closed down, V.R.Complex had been closed for a while and now the twin theatres are rocking along, big time. They were the first to introduce 3D projection in Coimbatore with Avatar and have gone in for a completely revamped look as well. K.G.Cinemas is now part of Reliance’s Big Cinemas and Carnatic Cinema continues to be the single screen of choice for Hindi,English and Malayalam movies. Incidentally there are hardly any single screens around in the city as most of them have turned the multiplex/cineplex route. With more multiplex players like Maharaja,Sathyam Cinemas, Fun Cinemas etc entering the city,the audience is spoiled for choice no doubt but somehow the old charm of single screens seems to be slowly vanishing in the textile city.
Note– This was originally written some time in early 2009 and recently re-edited again. I will now be moving on to Chennai for my next post in this series to cover one of my favorite single screens. This is part of the endeavor to cover single screens from across the Country.