Pre-Independence landmark restored

Pre-Independence landmark restored

Opera, at the junction of Brigade Road and Residency Road, has been restored. (Right) It had remained decrepit because of a legal battle between 1998 and 2008.

A British-era landmark that holds fond memories for old Bengalureans is coming back to life.

New Opera, at the intersection of Brigade Road and Residency Road had remained in disuse for decades. A team of experts has painstakingly restored it, and it will open its doors to the public on September 11.

The concert-and-movies venue is now an “experience centre” where electronics major Samsung will showcase its products. The heritage structure will now be called Samsung Opera House.  “It is a one-of-its-kind place in the country,” an official who was part of the restoration told Metrolife.

Old Bengalureans, who have visited New Opera to watch movies, are thrilled at being able to go back again. For Farook Sulaiman, businessman, memories go back to the pre-Independence era. “We used to live on Hospital Road and my uncle once took me to a movie in Opera. The movie had just released because it showed the British queen, now elderly, being coronated after King George V died.”

The ceremony was shown as a movie and Sulaiman remembers it lasted more than an hour. Those were days with no television, and big news came in the form of documentaries shown before a movie. 

In later years, New Opera became popular for screening Tamil films. Kumar Velu (Babu) of Nilgiris, the diary and confectionery store then located across the cinema, remembers going there often. “Tickets were priced at 50 paise. Only MGR and Sivaji Ganesan movies were screened there. It was the only theatre where women had separate seating,” he says. The ladies seats, as they were called, were at the back and the seating for men was in front. “I must have been in school then,” recalls Velu.

M R Jagadeesh, director of Bangalore School of Music and founder of band MoonArra, is excited at the prospect of going back to Opera House. “I used to go there as a child to watch Tamil movies with my parents. It was one of our many family outings. The multiplexes are here to stay but the warmth of the old buildings can never be replaced,” he says.

Padma Ramanujam, 88, who now lives in the southern part of the city, recalls driving on almost empty roads to go to Opera to watch movies. “We regularly went there to watch MGR movies. Those were the golden days of Bengaluru and the traffic is so bad now I can’t even imagine going there,” says Padma.

 It was not just movies. New Opera was also popular for concerts. Rex Rozario, saxophone player, was seven when he went to watch his father’s jazz band Elite Aces, perform there. “This was one of the many concerts I attended. The place was not only convenient but it was also considered prestigious to go there,” says Rozario. The last film he saw there was Thillana Mohanambal, in which Sivaji plays a nadaswaram player.

Gearing up for action inside the Samsung Opera House.

 It was not just the movies but also the delicious savouries that vendors sold just outside Opera that drew people to the place. Sulaiman Jamal, a businessman, studied in Coimbatore but whenever I visited Bengaluru, was taken to Opera by his uncles. “The ‘thattai murukku’ sold by vendors were the most delicious. They must have made in a hygienic way because we never fell sick,” he says.

Dr Ashley Williams, resident conductor, Indian National Symphony Orchestra, says “The few times I have gone there I was surprised to see a band playing just before the movie. My mother recalls it was also popular as a place for ballroom dancing. I can’t wait to walk into the place after almost 50 years.”

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