Theatres that brought Hollywood to Bengaluru

Theatres that brought Hollywood to Bengaluru

They were all concentrated in the MG Road area, and each had a character it could call its own

Galaxy theatre before being brought down.

In the past century, when I used to review Hollywood movies for this newspaper, they were all screened in cinemas a cricketing shot away from the office.

On a Friday, the day of new releases, my sorties would resemble a batsman’s wagon wheel on the field. A lopsided wheel, though, with trajectories only stretching to the slips or the off side — point, gully and third man — and if you’re an English movie buff (like me) and a cricket fan (unlike me), you would know the precise locations of the cinemas I’m talking about. (I cheated. Learnt the fielding positions through a few online clicks.)

The single-screen theatres on M G Road, Brigade Road and Residency Road, which showcased Hollywood fare, have all been clean bowled. In my time, Liberty on the on side had already retired hurt but the off side was playing briskly. They were Plaza (now the Metro station) adjacent to Blu Moon with its compact companion Blu Diamond; Rex (the last to crumble), Galaxy (now a multi-storey office complex), and Symphony and the relatively far-flung Lido (both part of the Fame chain of multiplexes).

Opera and Imperial were on a sticky wicket; the former had begun to screen sleazy ‘A’ movies — soft porn scenes interpolated in B-grade Malayalam films — while the latter was showing every indication of fatigue and imminent dismissal.

Unlike the worldwide releases that are the norm today, Hollywood movies took their own sweet time to sail to Indian shores, voyaging for a year or more. And I had to watch them all — the good, the bad and the indifferent.

There were weeks when a slew of new releases would have me catching a matinee in one theatre and ‘second show’ in the second, and occasionally emerging bleary-eyed from the third after clocking a night show as well. The timings were set in stone: 3.30, 6.30, 9.30, with an additional morning show on Sundays.

And up to two days ahead of your chosen date and time, you queued up in front of the ‘Advance Booking’ counters, with separate lines for Middle Stall and Balcony. No booking needed for ‘Gandhi class’ as Front Stalls were known, and many are the times I’ve earned curious looks (what sort of hanky panky is this lone young woman up to?) by picking a seat smack in the middle of the first few rows.

In Galaxy, though, I got a childish kick out of the gimmicky ramp that snaked its red-carpeted way up towards — Balcony? Surprise surprise, you were in Middle Stall, still on the lower floor!

Unlike today’s cloned multiplexes, these cinemas had varying architecture and sometimes, their own little special attractions, like the ear-splitting whoosh of Galaxy’s espresso machine, and the hiss and crackle of Plaza’s popcorn machine.

Plaza’s snacks counter nestled in a corner of its wooden ballroom floor upstairs where you could look through the wide windows onto M G Road and the Parade Ground below. Rex had parking for four- and two-wheelers right in front of the compound, and if you arrived before your friends did, you sat on the two steps that ran in a longitudinal arc along the facade.

Rifling through my yellowing clippings, names leap to my eye: Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Goldie Hawn, Sigourney Weaver, Eddie Murphy, Laurence Fishburne… names half-forgotten, names associated with the year or decade, film or role that made them well-known.

De Niro and Pacino and Streep are timeless stars, of course, but if you take a Melanie Griffiths or a Michelle Pfeiffer you can only warm yourself in their afterglow. These names also reminded me of the theatres I watched them in and the circumstances in which I watched them.

I recall Imperial rather predictably screening Body which I watched amidst an all-male audience, but that same theatre also rather unbelievably screened the Eisenstein classic Battleship Potemkin.

In fact if I were to make up a completely random list of English movie memories from the 1980s and 1990s it would go like this: Plaza — Star Wars and all its sequels; John Travolta in the unforgettable Saturday Night Fever; the outrageous though hilarious politically incorrect depiction of disability in Something About Mary.

Blu Diamond — the audience on its feet and dancing to the music of Abba: The Movie; Peter O’Toole playing a version of his real self as an alcoholic star of yesteryear in My Favourite Year; meeting my English professor at a screening of Into the Night and him remarking, about Jeff Goldblum, how Indian his features were.

Symphony — a colourised 70 MM print of Gone with the Wind; rolling in the aisles, my hostel mates and I, during a night show of the Mel Brooks comedy History of the World Part II.

Galaxy — two entirely different sci-fi movies Robo Cop and Blade Runner; the seemingly impossible pair of Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier gelling smoothly in The Prince and the Showgirl. And so on…

But let me not bother you with my memories. You must have some of your own — memories that radiate like a wagon wheel from the site of every departed single-screen cinema in the heart of Bangalore Cantonment.