from Hindu April 1932 ,
Another one bites the Dust. ( Kinema Central – Sri Murugan Talkies is no more)
It is a common site for a Chennaiite to see an old building being torn down to make way for a modern structure. Residents of Xavier Street , in Mint woke up last week to find one of their iconic structures being brought down –The Sri Murugan Talkies . With this demolition one more Single Cinema Hall is reduced to rubble. “It is not because the Theater is doing badly, as we were screening B Grade dubbed films that draws a fair crowd but to more effectively utilize the land and create better facilities” said Balasubramanian the Grandson of the founder. The proposed Construction plans to include a mini Theater , so that the 100 plus year old tradition started by his grandfather continues.
In 1895 , Murugesa Mudaliar, a rich Landlord from Ponneri came down to Madras to start some Business. He acquired a square plot of 10 Grounds , surrounded by streets on all four sides and built a “Market”. Sadly the business did not take off as he had hoped. During his frequent travels to Bombay he had noticed many Halls built for staging Plays. He came back and in 1910 converted the Market to a Theater and called it “Majestic Theater”. Many popular Drama Troupes like T.K.S Brothers , Kali N Rathinam, S.G.Kittappa and M.R.Radha staged many Plays here. “Avvai” T.K.Shanmugam recalls in his autobiography that it was in Majestic Theater that he first played under Electric Lights and it was also the first time he ate “Poori – Potato”. He also called it “Grand” and not Majestic.According to the family In 1915 Murugesa Mudaliar went to Bombay and purchased equipment to screen Movies. A huge crowd gathered to welcome him and the Projection equipment at the Central Station and he was taken in a procession led by a band and folk dancers to the Theater. He started screening silent films . Huge crowds gathered to watch this wonder , called the Motion Picture and Business was booming.hey built a second Theater in 1923 on the same plot and called it Prince , to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales to India. The Theater ran into a problem with the licensing authorities and shows were suspended after a few months, so the first multi Theater venture did not take off.
In 1931, Majestic’s name was changed to “Kinema Central” , it soon screened “Alam Ara” the first Indian Talkie. People from all over Tamil Nadu were fascinated with this new audio visual experience and flocked to the Theater. People came by Road and Rail to watch this film. There were 2 shows every day and the highest class Ticket was priced at One Rupee only. People used to bring food, snacks and even drinking water to the shows.
On October 31st , 1931, the first “Tamil-Telugu” Talkie Kalidasa was also screened here. It is ironic that exactly 80 years later the Cinema Hall is coming down. Soon the films of M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, P.U.Chinnappa , T.P.Rajalakshmi , K.B.Sundarambal , T.R.Mahalingam were all screened here. The Theater was made to look like a Sivan Temple for Avvaiyar and that attracted huge crowds who broke Coconuts and lit Camphor outside the Theater. The Lobby has a huge collection of Photographs , a film historian’s delight.
After Murugesa Mudaliar passed away in 1942 , his son Paramasiva Mudaliar took charge and for 60 plus years his practice of opening the counter and selling the first 11 tickets daily till he passed away in 2006. He changed the name to Sri Murugan Talkies in 1948 in memory of his father. It had a capacity of 908 seats. It was his Passion for Cinema that kept the Theater functioning despite all odds.
Classics like Meera, Shakunthala , Avvaiyaar , Chinnappa’s Uththama Puthiran, MGR’s first film Sathi Leelavathi , K.Subrahmanyam’s Thyagabhoomi were all released here. MKT’s Ambikapathy , Thiruneelakantar, Ashokkumar enjoyed great runs and Chinthamani ran for nearly 3 years in Kinema Central. Once MKT wanted to watch the film along with the audience and a special Box was built to accommodate him.
MGR was a close friend of Paramasiva Mudalier. He re- released “Maruthanaattu Ilavarasi” and gave it a lot of Publicity to coincide with MGR ‘s taking over as Chief Minister. MGR wanted to watch this film and when they offered to send the Print over , MGR refused and said , though the Theater did not have Air Conditioning he still wanted to watch the Movie in Murugan Theater. Normal shows were suspended and the Chief Minister and his brother , and many friends watched a private show , re living memories of their youth when MGR used to stay near Wall Tax Road and watch movies here.