Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXX No. 1, April16-30, 2020

More on Gaiety Theatre

by Ramineni Bhaskarendra Rao

This has reference to the article Not much Gaiety in its history, featured under the Lost Landmarks ­column in MM Vol. XXIX, No. 23, March 16th, 2020. I am providing some more information below which may be of interest to your readers.

The Star of East Films studio run by Venkayya and Prakash had the Raja of Pithapuram, Sir R.K. Shanmukham Chetty and Dewan Bahadur Govinddoss Chaturbhuj Doss on its Board of Directors. Bhishma Pratigna, their first film and directed by Prakash, featured Peggy Castello (an English/Anglo Indian girl), Bunny Osten (a European), A. Narayanan (later of General Pictures Corporation Studio), and Prakash himself (as Bhishma). Sir Ramaswami Aiyar presided over the preview of the film at Gaiety, Madras, and it was later screened at the Majestic Cinema of Bombay.

Page 4_1These are the Telugu advertisements (1923) for the films Gajendra Moksham and Bhishma Prathigna in Crown and Gaiety respectively. (Picture above – Exhibit 1.)

Prakash also produced films on health and hygiene for the Government of Madras and Catechist of Kil-Arni a Catholic propaganda film for the Irish priest Thomas Gavin Duffy and Bruce Gordon for the Paris Foreign Mission Society in Pondicherry.

You have quoted popular sources to state that the cost of the chrono-megaphone purchased by Venkayya was Rs 30,000/-. The cost of a high-quality gramophone in Spencer’s, Madras was Rs 900/- in 1917 and by 1926 the cost of the best gramophone came down to Rs 170/-. So a combination of Gramophone and Movie Projector would not have cost that much in 1910 and that too considering it was a second-hand projector purchased from Mrs. Craven.

While it is rightly mentioned that Venkayya built the Gaiety, Roxy and Crown, there are some reports that state he constructed the ‘Imperial’ in Madurai too. As regards the Gaiety screening serials, all the theatres of Madras were showing imported films as serials prior to 1930s, as Indian films were not that many in number to cater to their needs. It is to be noted that the production of Indian films from 1897 to 1912 were only 55 shorts and from 1913 to 1934 the number of silents produced were about one thousand only. The production of Indian films during the year 1924 is about 59 against the films imported amounting to 405. Majority of the films distributed and exhibited by Madan Theaters Ltd in Madras were naturally imported films only. Indian films were also screened as serials. India’s first serial silent movie Exile of Sri Rama in four parts was released in 1918.

Regarding the Parsi ownership of theatres, it must be recalled here that the Wellington and Westend (Midland) were also in the hands of that community during the 1930s.

Page 4_2This advertisement says Wellington Cinema proprietors are proudly opening Midland Theater (Westend Talkies) with Bhaktha Ramdas. (Exhibit 2)

Now on the subject of the stampede at the Gaiety, archival newsreports provide greater details. On September 18, 1938 six theatres in Madras were hired to run films for free to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of United Artistes Corporation owned/controlled by Mr. K. Subrahmanyam. Being a Sunday and the films shown for free meant there was lot of rush and stampede, which at Gaiety was severe.

Sub-inspector Ethirajulu Naidu came with his force and the injured numbering 24 were shifted in an ambulance car to the General Hospital. 17 persons were admitted, three in serious condition. A 13 year-old girl suffered fracture of the hand. The Andhra Pathrika reporter who visited the hospital and the Chintadripet police station reported 18 were admitted into the GH, seven were in serious condition. There was a stampede in a theatre in George Town also where a person in the audience got injured.

Lastly, I agree with Sriram V. that the claim that there was a lathi charge inside Gaiety on the banning of Thyaga Bhoomi has no historical basis. The facts are as follows — On 20th May 1939, Thyaga Bhoomi was released in Gaiety and ran for about 12 weeks and Tanguturi Suryakumari’s Adrushtam was the next movie released in this theatre. Thyaga Bhoomi was shifted to Kinema Central thereafter.

The actual ban was notified only in 1944, five years after the film was made and this can be verified from a copy of the GO I furnish below – (Exhibit 3, Exhibit 4.)

Page 4_3Exhibit 3
Page 4_4Exhibit 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *