Monday, April 21, 2008

A century after, the lure still endures

A century after, the lure still endures

Bangalore: As the city grows, and theatres such as Kalpana, Majestic, Gitanjali, Plaza and Galaxy make way for multiplex mania, a 110-year-old theatre in Shivajinagar quietly continues to draw an audience.
Actors like Balaji, Gemini Ganesan, Ashok Kumar, Ifteqar and Mehmood were regulars to Elgin Talkies located on Shivaji Road. Today, it is a popular destination for Bangalore’s migrant population.
Elgin depends heavily on the labour class for its revenue. “We get about 90 people per show, which is helping us run the place and break even,’’ says A V Krishnamurthy, the fourth-generation proprietor who is trying to hold the place together.
Hidden in a narrow street in Shivajinagar, Elgin may have missed the eye of realtors, but it may still have to close for other reasons.
Viewership dips drastically during summer. “For the past month, viewership has come down from the average 70% of capacity to 30-40%. This lean period should get better by July,’’ says Krishnamurthy. Summer is when Elgin’s trusted audience makes a trip back home.
“Most labourers go back to their native places up North. This trend has picked up in the past couple of years,’’ he added. Viewership is also decreasing as many labourers have moved away from this area to the city’s periphery.
Elgin normally screens popular movies. Posters of Mithun Chakraborty or Akshay Kumar of the Khiladi days almost always secure a ‘houseful’ response. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ran so successfully that Krishnamurthy made a profit of Rs 5,000 over the Rs 15,000 he invested on hiring the film.
“Elgin obviously cannot afford new films. There is no point investing so much when I am certain that there will be no returns. The audience that this theatre caters to is not going to change. Sometimes, we run Tamil and Kannada movies too,” said Krishnamurthy.
The tickets are priced at Rs 20 and a canteen serves cheap snacks. Krishnamurthy rules out the option of turning the talkies, which has stood the test of time, into a museum. “We are trying to make repairs and set it right.’’
Elgin the legend
Elgin is named after Victor Alexander Bruce, the ninth Earl of Elgin, who served as the viceroy of India between 1894 and 1899. It was established by Veerabhadra Mudaliar in 1896. It was in the same year that the Lumiere brothers demonstrated to a speechless audience in Mumbai, a new experience called cinema. The same year, silent cinema debuted in Bangalore too.
In 1930, Elgin was converted to a talkie by Krishnamurthy’s grandfather Natesha Mudaliar, with the screening of Alam Ara. Barring a few minor renovations, Elgin remains the same today, mortar and brick. The projector installed in 1930 continues to roll.


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