Tuesday, January 14, 2014

More Shine to Shanthi

The doors of Shanthi Theatre, hidden away on Anna Salai, are an escape into a period when movie-time meant going on a trip with your family and balcony seats costing `2.99. The walls are sleekly panelled with wood and peppered with photographs of people from three generations — Sivaji Ganesan, Prabhu and Vikram Prabhu. The effect is quite quaint, what one would call art deco. But all that might change in just a couple of years. With multiplexes popping up in the blink of an eye in the city, the family that owns the theatre – Sivaji’s family – are still undecided about the fate of one of the oldest cinema theatres in the city. The family is sure that change is necessary, but what to change is the question. The theatre has certainly evolved and sustained itself at a time when its contemporaries like the Elphinstone, Globe and Minerva faded away. One of the sole exceptions is the Casino, built before Shanthi Theatre, that is still left standing. Thick with history and memories, Shanthi Theatre, which turns 53 on January 12, is still the go-to theatre for many in the city. “There used be a time when it was must for a Sivaji fan to see the movie in Shanthi. Even if they’d seen the movie in some other theatre, they’ll all come back and see it in Shanthi theatre,” reveals the man behind the business, Ramkumar. “It still goes on. For a movie produced by Sivaji Productions, fans have to watch it at Shanthi Theatre. It is a tradition,” he says. The facade of the theatre stands seemingly changed after its renovation in 2005, after the release of Chandramukhi. A new screen was added.The building was given a complete overhaul. But the insides of the theatre still bear echoes of the past. Fans still turn up in large numbers for a first-day-first-show, there is still paper confetti thrown at the screen. “Back when appa’s (Sivaji’s) films used to run, people would throw money at the screen. And there would be baskets and baskets of roses and jasmine. After a show, the entire hall used to smell like flowers!” says Ramkumar, whose most cherished memory of the theatre happened when he was seven or eight years old. “It was the premiere of Karnan. There was a larger-than-life statue of Karna praying to Surya in the empty space in front. And the entire car parking got turned into a sit-down dinner hall for the guests. I remember drowsily sitting through the night show,” recalls Ramkumar with a smile. As the thunderous applause from one of the halls explodes out of the doors, you cannot help but wonder what sort of changes the family is going to bring in. Will the walls shine lifelessly like the new malls? Will there be swanky new halls, threatening to tear away the memories scrubbed into the floor? Only time will tell. “We are looking at different business models, models that will benefit our family – because after all, family comes first, doesn’t it?” asks Ramkumar. “We’ve only started discussions. Within a year, we’ll know what to do,” he adds. Until then, it looks like the cheers of films buffs will continue unabated.

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