Navrang to morph into multiplex soon

The 56-year-old theatre is closed, but the good news is that it will be back with multiple screens

Navrang, one of Bengaluru’s iconic cinema halls, is closed, and will be back in a new avatar soon. 

The theatre is a landmark on Dr Rajkumar Road in Rajajinagar, and has screened Kannada, Tamil and Hindi films since the early 1960s. 

A design expert says Navrang’s anachronism is a huge part of its charm, with its uniquely Indian cocktail of architectural styles.

Work on the renovation has begun, and the final date of reopening is yet to be decided.

The theatre has united movie buffs across age, language and class barriers, say its admirers.

Textile industrialist KCN Gowda, a native of Doddaballapur, bought a civic amenities site (26,000 sq ft) in an auction for Rs 85,000. The auction was conducted by the City Improvement Trust Board, a predecessor to the Bangalore Development Authority.

A group of Gujaratis, who controlled the Kannada film industry then, offered Rs 1.30 lakh for the site, but Gowda turned them down, says K C N Mohan, his son. 

B D Jatti, chief minister of Mysore State (as Karnataka was then called), laid the foundation stone for Navrang on June 30, 1961, while his successor S Nijalingappa inaugurated it on August 22, 1963. Minister M V Krishnappa switched on the projector. 

Architect Isaac Vincent from Australia designed Navrang. It was named Navrang as Gowda wanted his theatre to represent nine colours, or the nine emotions of Indian classical art.

The theatre began its journey with the Rajkumar-starrer Veera Kesari (1963).

Rajajinagar did not have a city bus connection, although it is just 5 km from Majestic. After Navrang came up, Gowda played a role in getting the authorities to send a bus to Rajajinagar.

Rajajinagar, with its predominant Kannadiga population, also had pockets of Tamils, especially in adjacent Srirampura. “My father took Geetha, Super and Shree theatres on lease as they screened Tamil movies. That also helped Navrang screen Tamil films. However, the screening was halted after the road was named after Dr Rajkumar,” Mohan, current owner of Navrang, explains.

The idea is to expand capacity and add more screens. The hall has seen an expansion in the recent past, too.

“We would be forced to withdraw films after 100 days to make way for new releases. We were charged with selling tickets in the black market. Filmmaker Dwarakish lodged a police complaint after Apthamithra (2004) was withdrawn to make way for an Upendra film. These factors forced us to increase the seating,” Mohan says.  The number of seats in the balcony was doubled from 180 to 360. 

Navrang has also provided the backdrop for four films.

WHY RENOVATION?

“Our profits are meagre because multiplexes have come up. We want to change with the times,” Mohan adds.

He was advised to demolish the theatre and build a shopping mall, but the idea didn’t appeal to him. “Navrang has no liability. It’s my father’s dream. That is why I am not demolishing it,” he explains.

Mohan is expecting permission for multiple screens. The present management, comprising Mohan, K N Saroja and K C N Chandrashekhar, is spending Rs 2 crore on the renovation. 

Mungaru Male highest profit

Yogaraj Bhat’s Mungaru Male (2006) ran for 25 weeks (two shows a day). Navrang earned Rs 50 lakh for the producers, and that was apart from its own profits. That film brought the hall its highest earnings.

Milestones

- Shammi Kapoor’s Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) was the first 70 MM film to be screened at Navrang.

- Vishnuvardhan-starrer Biligiriya Banadalli (1980) was the first Kannada Cinemascope film here.

- Hollywood film Transformers was the first 3D film to be screened at Navrang. It opened on June 30, 2011.

- On January 1, 2004, Navrang became the first theatre in Karnataka to get Japanese laser projection. DTS was introduced on June 8, 2009.
The theatre initially had 640 seats in the dress circle and 180 on the balcony. Its capacity was expanded in the new millennium. Before it was closed for renovation, it had a total seating capacity of 1,000.

Rs 85,000 (Price paid for 26,000 sq ft site for Navrang in 1961)

Three-month shutdown

Navrang was shut down for three months when Veerappan abducted Dr Rajkumar in July 2000.

It was then screening Sunil Kumar Desai’s Sparsha.

The last film to be screened before closure for renovation was Abhishekh Ambareesh’s Amar.


Dr Rajkumar at a ‘dignitary show’ in Navrang theatre.

All Rajkumar films screened

- Navrang is the only theatre in Karnataka to have screened all films of Dr Rajkumar and his sons Shivarajkumar, Raghavendra Rajkumar and Puneeth Rajkumar.

- Rajkumar’s all films have all been screened for 100 days. For many years, people thought his family owned Navrang.

- For dignitary shows, attended by stars like Dr Rajkumar and Kalpana, the audience were offered tea and biscuits.

- At the time of its inauguration, a regular ticket cost Rs 2, and a balcony ticket Rs 3. Before renovation, the rates were Rs 80 and Rs 100 respectively.

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