>Preserving the magic of cinema

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Welcome, all ye film buffs
On March 14th, 1931, the first Indian `talkie’ `Alam Ara’ was released in Mumbai. Crowds thronged the theatre, eager to be a part of history in the making. Tickets were apparently sold in `black’ at hugely inflated prices. ( Four anna tickets were sold at Rs.4 and 5/- ). Police `bandobast’ had to be organised and Ardeshir Irani, head of the Imperial Film Company knew he had a hit on his hands. `Alam Ara ‘ had a stellar cast with the beautiful princess Zubeida as its heroine, the dashing Master Vittal as its hero, and the equally debonair Prithviraj Kapoor as villain. In Bangalore, eager audiences got to see the super hit a year later in 1932. At Elgin Talkies.
Carbon arc projectors bring the screen alive

`Alam Ara’ disappeared into the archives of cinematic history.Into the dusty back shelves of our memories and was lost for ever. No prints of the film exist today. But Elgin Talkies lives on in its quiet corner at Shivajinagar Circle, gently administered to by family. Walk in today and you can still catch a show.What’s more, you can watch it on the same equipment that was bought for the very first screening of `Alam Ara.’ 

Single screen, seating four hundred and two.

When Veerabhadra Mudaliar built the Elgin in 1896 it was a theatre hall like any other in the city. But elsewhere in India, the history of cinema was being changed forever. The Lumiere brothers arrived in Bombay with six soundless films that were shown on July 7th 1896 at Watson’s Hotel, Kala Ghoda to a dumbstruck audience who could not believe their eyes. Many were fatally bitten by the film bug and I am sure there must have been more than one rebellious son who was disinherited by his traditional, God fearing family for wanting to make a career out of the next big thing – films. In 1907, the year the Lumiere brothers also sent out their Autochrome Lumiere ( a colour photography process) into the market, the Elgin was converted into a `talkies’ showing popular silent films..

In 2005, Elgin Talkies was in the limelight again. As a part of the World Information Cities Exhibition, Elgin was the site of an installation by Ashok Sukumaran called `Change of State’. As a fitting tribute the enigmatic cinema hall was eventually captured on celluloid by Gaurav Chandelya in `Kahani Elgin Ki’.

On any ordinary day, thousands of people walk into Shivajinagar but barely acknowlede with even a passing glance the Elgin and its magnificent contribution to Bangalore’s history. When one is grappling with daily issues of survival, a movie theatre and the vintage projection systems inside it will hardly be of any consequence or consideration.

But the Elgin has seen it all -the revolutionary silent film era, the talking picture and the birth of Bollywood. For film buffs this movie theatre is a priceless treasure. But like its black and white film heroines, it is in now the twilight of its years, holding its memories close and surviving with graciousness despite the onslaught of all the Sheelas and Munnis the world wants to watch today.

One day, the Elgin will be knocked down and make way for a shopping arcade or wedding hall. The carbon arc projectors would have run their course. But a significant aspect of Bangalore’s cinematic history will be lost forever.

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One comment

  1. I wish someone would suggest turning it into a museum ! It would be wonderful if it could have a film archive, screen films, run festivals and maybe even a course in film studies. The best way to preserve the past is to make it a part of the present. What do you think ?

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