The romance of watching movies on a single screen

Syed Qamar Hussain

By Syed Qamar Hussain

Hyderabad: Of the many fast-disappearing old-time cultural and social traditions of Hyderabad, the single-screen cinema halls, that once were the reasonably affordable and comfortable means of recreation from noon to midnight for many a commoner are missed by old-time cinema buffs.

Recently an established man scribe for the Hindu newspaper wrote an interesting piece on vanishing single-screen cinema halls of the city, lamenting the loss of the iconic cinema halls that once dotted the city skyline. Despite some of them being in a dilapidating state, ragged seats infested with ticks and bugs, yet attracted a lot many old-time movie watchers who could not afford the luxury of hi-fi theatres and their expensive seating.

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The consistent innovations in the film industry, the black & white going technicolor to Eastman color, from Dolby to Imax sound systems, from 35 mm to 75 mm to the high-resolution Imax screens, many of the single-screen theatres running on old formats had to surrender to the new swanky air-conditioned modern wide screened and high-tech sound systems. Hyderabadis returning from a business or pleasure trip to the port city of Bombay would never fail to mention the air-conditioned big-screen theatres of the city, especially Maratha Mandir. So grippingly described that one visiting Bombay would not miss out on a couple of hours from the busy tiring business schedules to watch ever movie single-screen was screened at the Maratha Mandir. 

But the charm and romance of the single-screen cinemas is missing from the posh hi-fi multi-plexes. Missing are the large open grounds, the long serpentine queues at the lesser-priced ticket windows, the few well healed at the dress circle and gallery counters often in the large foyers of the theatre. Mong Phalli (roasted groundnut) vendors going up and down the queues selling the hot nuts in hand-rolled newspaper cones. High pitched whistling by the car parking in charge directing drivers to the right parking slot.  Alms seeking beggars dogging attendants chasing them with choicest of expletives. Friday’s new movies would be released, it would also be a day when many a student would play truant to mark attendance at the ticket counters.  The large crowds on the day of release would be a testimony to the film being a box office success. Advance and online bookings were not much in vogue, only the early birds at the ticket windows met with success. The muscled and the duck backed, and one time Romeo for their one-time Juliets would take to queue jumping, a high calorie burning effort that would leave the victors with the ticket bruised and disheveled,. Then there were the black marketers who would sell tickets double the price to eager cinema buffs who wouldn’t mind having missed out on the legal purchase.

And almost all the old and well-known theatres like, the Zammurd, Palace, Royal, Dilshad, Sham, Lata, Liberty carried the coda “ Talkies”. Unlike the present Multiplexes, it was Palace talkies, Lata talkies. But cinema halls in Secundrabad screening Hollywood movies did not carry the coda “talkies. Plaza was the biggest, further down towards Secundrabad Club were Tivoli and Dream Land.

Another couple of theatres that carried a certain charm were the match-box cinema halls, Light House on Abids, opposite Mehboobia Girls School and Embassy theatre adjacent to Liberty near Himayath Nagar screening only English movies. Unusual in size both had a distinct clientele of English moviegoers who missed out on movies on the big screens. Light House had a very purse-friendly seating, starting from one rupee to 1.75/. Morning shows would still be much less. Mostly western movies done with their run at the Plaza or Tivoli would be screened. The embassy was so homely, that if one knew the usher Mr. Abid, he could be seated despite a sold-outhouse. Abid Bhai was a character in himself, dark-complexioned, handlebar mustache, lips crimsoned by Paan spittle, snow-white shirt and trousers was ever accommodating to accommodate victims of “houseful’ by putting in extra chairs once he had the fare put discreetly in his palms.

Alas as the saying goes, the good old days, the laid-back charm of the city of Nawabs and jadeerdars has vanished forever. Only memories to live by.

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