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Monday, February 15, 2016

TN CM Ms J Jayalalithaa inaugurates all new Kalaivanar Arangam [Childrens theatre once]

Chhoti Si Baat,  is a 1975 Hindi romantic comedy film featuring Amol Palekar.

Chennai has a long history of theatres and Mount Road was identified with theatres – from Shanti to Saffire – so many dotted the road.  According to Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema,  edited by AshishRajadhyaksha – Warwick Major opened the first theatre in 1900 – but by other accounts, it was in 1913, that  Warwick Major opened the first theatre in Madras in the present Philatelic Bureau on Mount Road, and it was titled Major Warwick Electric theatre. Triplicane had Star, Paragon and Childrens’ theatre.  Of the many movie halls of fame -  Sun, Saffire, Anand, Star, Paragon,  Wellington, Chitra, Nagesh, Odeon …. have all fallen by the side.

In where Paragon once stood, now has a high-rise building and opposite to Paragon was a theatre of a different kind and history… that is what famously was Children’s theatre – a relatively new building with some history in it ! – nearly a decade ago, when it was pulled down, it was not a dilapidated structure but a strong one….. pulled down to give way for the new Secretariat complex planned at that time.

For the few years it had entertained many, especially children – while all the other theatres were commercial ones catapulting ordinary people to famed mortals and some to the heights of rulers of the State, this one was meant for students education and enlightenment ! through the strong cinema media. Remember that in mid 1970s, the ticket here was a mere 50 paise for students, later raised to Re.1 – around which time the box of Devi Paradise was the ultimate luxury at Rs.2.90.  Recall those days when the theatre showcased comedy films in English and some hindi films too. With the many screenings, the comedy duo of ‘Laurel and Hardy’ the lean bean and  big fat reached us.  The slapstick comedy of the classical Hollywood era of American cinema made students laugh heartily. The duo's signature tune, was  known  as "The Cuckoo Song."

The building has chequered history - it was built as a new Assembly Hall in the early 1950s at a cost of Rs 10 lakh as the one in Fort St George was not able to seat the 375 legislators of the composite Madras State about to be elected in 1952. So the administrators thought it fit to move out of Fort St. George to a new building constructed closer to Rajaji Hall and Government House,  inaugurated on May 2, 1952 by the then  Governor Sri Prakasa. When Andhra Pradesh was carved out linguistically, the reduced no. of legislators could be accommodated in the hall inside the Fort  and the otherwise disused building became the  Children’s Theatre where children’s films and documentaries were shown at subsidised rates.  Few years later, the auditorium was refurbished as a 1000-seat theatre and relaunched as Kalaivanar Arangam, named after N.S. Krishnan.

The theatre survived till 2008 when, as part of the magnificent obsession to build a new Assembly-cum-Secretariat in Government Estate, the heritage buildings in the premises were all brought down one by one. Remember seeing the magic show of PC Sarkar in May 2009. Now it is back with fresh vigour.

On Sunday, 14th Feb 2016, Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa inaugurated ‘Kalaivanar Arangam’ - an auditorium that can seat about 2,400 people, through video conferencing.  The auditorium spread over 1.92 lakh sq. metre with state-of-the-art facilities has been constructed at a cost of Rs. 62.73 crore, according to an official release. The completely air-conditioned auditorium has seats for 1,100 persons in the first and second floors and about 1,300 persons in the third floor. The auditorium has escalators, lifts, rooms for officials, food plaza, guest rooms, conference halls and parking space for about 200 four-wheelers and 500 two-wheelers. The parking space in basement can accommodate 50 four-wheelers and 100 two-wheelers, the release added.

If you wonder why Chhoti Si Baat featured here… in 1978 with due permission from my parents, me with a couple of friends went to see a Laurel & Hardy film – little did we realize that they would change films every Thursday and ended up entering the hall for the Hindi romantic film[which otherwise was a taboo!] featuring a shy young man Arun Pradeep (Amol Palekar) lacking self-confidence falling for  Prabha Narayan (Vidya Sinha) at the bus stop en route to work !  ~ the movie had cameos performed by Dharmendra & Hemamalini and Amitabh featured in a movie-within-movie sequence. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

15th Feb 2016.

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