Sunday, September 16, 2012

Towering across

From across the Harris (now Adithanaar) Road bridge on the east, this building quite catches the eye. It is the WSS Towers; although the developers had tried to name it Harmony Towers, it is WSS that has stuck. WSS retains a bit of the history of the area, so it seems far more appropriate than a bland 'Harmony'. More of that in a bit, but we will stay with the building itself for now. 

Just as this one catches the eye, so would its predecessor have, especially in early 1964. On the site of the WSS Towers used to be the Chitra Theatre, built by K. Viswanathan in 1948. With the Cooum flowing along its east before turning along its southern flank, movie watchers at Chitra would have enjoyed the cool river breeze aplenty. Remember, no airconditioning, open doors and the Cooum itself was a splendid watercourse in those days. In early 1964 - it could have been during Pongal time - the MGR superhit Vettaikaran ('The Hunter') was released at Chitra. The facade of the building was decked up to look like a mountain forest, with MGR ready to leap from a hillside. And, to complete the forest theme, a tiger was placed near the theatre's entrance. Originally, the publicity plan called for the tiger to be tied up in the open, but with the police (?) insisting on safety, the tiger was put inside a cage. 

Chitra did not make the transition to a world of multiplexes. As has been the fate of many of Madras' old movie halls, this one was also turned into a commercial complex. In calling it WSS Towers, the developers were probably paying homage to WS Samy Naick, the first 'native doctor' of the East India Company, who lived on Harris Road in the early 1800s - but that's a story for another day!

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