Sunday, July 5, 2009

Collectors' item

The forecourt is on similar lines to that of the Casino, but this one pre-dates the Casino by quite a few years. Unlike the Casino, the 'Electric Theatre', built by Reginald Eyre and Warwick Major had a very short run; it screened its first silent film in 1913 and fell silent for the last time in 1915. It is said that its drapes were in blue and red, tricked out with silver stars. Major and Eyre did not pay too much attention to the social aspects of going to the movies; the foyer was very narrow, with almost the entire building being used up as the screening hall. It appears this plan left very little space for the patrons to mingle and critique the film.

That alone may not have been the cause for the 'Electric Theatre' to close shop. Maybe the name did not lend itself to a feeling of joy - and that must have been sharply accentuated when 'Gaiety' opened in 1914, just behind the Electric Theatre. Major and Eyre did try to make up - was it they who pioneered the concept of differential pricing, for they created 5 classes of seating, including one for women in the purdah, sheltered from the others. Well, the division could more likely have been to reflect the society's caste system at that time, so that might have been a gambit to recover from an early error of mingled seats. But you can't fault them for bringing in the best caterer in Madras at the time - that's right, the Hotel d'Angelis - to run an open air bar and cafe in the garden besides the building.

None of it seemed to help the partners keep the business going. In 1915, they sold the building to the Government, to be developed as the Mount Road Main Post Office. Luckily, the Post Office has retained the building in its original shape and style - and you can even go in to get a double dose of history, looking at the old postage stamps and then looking up to see if you can spot the place where the electric lamp used for projection, which gave the theatre its name, was placed!

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