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Saturday, February 18, 2012

A flicker of the old screen magic

Cinemimi [Saturday, February 18, 2012]
FOLK still enjoy going to the old cinemas to catch a movie despite the advent of modern cineplexes offering better sound systems and picture clarity.
The Federal Cinema is still in business in Jalan Raja Laut. Pics by Mohd Yusni Ariffin and Nik Hariff Hassan
The mushrooming of cineplexes has not forced the cinemas out of business. A Streets check revealed that business was brisk at the cinemas that showed mostly Tamil and Hindi movies, though there was also a growing demand for Malay movies.

Among the oldest cinemas in the city is The Coliseum, which was built by a Chinese businessman in 1920. It is to be closed for refurbishment in April, pending approval from City Hall.

The one-screen cinema will have two screens, with modern touches added to its interior. However, the facade will be maintained on the two-storey building, which has been marked as a heritage building in 2007. Bangsawan shows (Malay opera) and Chinese opera were first performed there. In the 1940s, the cinema started showing English and Malay movies.

Coliseum Cinema manager, who wished to be known as Sofie, said: "English movies were more popular in the 1940s and 1950s because of the British.

"Movie tickets cost between RM0.60 and RM1 then. There were also a few classes of seats for different groups of income earners," he said.

Today, due to its location in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, where many foreign Indian workers live, it still receives a steady stream of customers.

The workers and old loyal customers fill the cinema hall on public holidays and weekends.

There were 888 seats when the Coliseum was first built, said Sofie.

However, it was later upgraded with more spacious seats. Now the cinema has 292 seats in the balcony and 524 on the ground floor.

But it still has only one movie screen.

Movies played at the Coliseum are mostly from India and local productions.

"About 60 per cent of the shows are Tamil and Hindi movies and 40 per cent local productions of mostly Malay movies," said Sofie.

Until 1992, movies were also advertised through colourful hand-painted billboards at the cinema.

The movie that raked in the most at the Coliseum Cinema box-office was the Tamil movie Sivaji The Boss starring South Indian movie superstar Rajinikanth in 2007.

The movie earned the cinema RM1 million in ticket sales.

Back in the 1980s, the superstar had visited the cinema, accompanied by flocks of his fans from all over the country.

In the 1950s, it was the family crowd that frequented the cinema, but it is the youngsters who now come with their friends.

The current ticket price is RM6 for the lower floor and RM8 for a balcony seat, about the same as the prices of tickets at the cineplexes.

Lotus Five Star Cinema general manager K. Rajoo said the old cinemas were just as comfortable as the cineplexes.

Lotus Five Star Cinema manages 22 cinemas in the country, among which are PJ State Cinema in Jalan Yong Shook Lin and the Sentul Cinema. .

PJ State Cinema was owned by Shaw Brothers in the 1960s. It played mostly English movies using carbon projectors. However, the cinema business also took a hit in the 1998 economy downturn, which led to the closure of PJ State Cinema, as it was converted into a church.

In 2004, Lotus Group took over the two-storey building and converted the ground floor into Lotus restaurant, which served Indian food, leaving the balcony empty.

Since the Lotus Group also distributed Tamil movies, it was decided that the PJ State Cinema should be reopened, and in 2006, it became the Lotus Five Star PJ State.

Back in the 1960s, the cinema had 600 seats and one movie screen. Today, it has two movie screens with 400 seats.

"Now we have more comfortable and larger chairs at the cinema. It is on par with the cineplexes," said Rajoo.

Sentul Cinema is another Shaw Brother-owned operation. Opened in 1970s, it played mostly Chinese movies on one screen and had about 1,000 seats. It was closed in 1984 and converted into a furniture shop.

In 2008, Lotus Five Star Cinema took over. It offered only Tamil movies and now has three screens.

"We have a good pool of repeat customers from Sentul and Kepong," said Rajoo.

He believes that the cinema business may flourish in the future with piracy reduced by a more discerning public.

"We have mainstream TV stations and satellite TV that offers many programmes. We also have the latest movie screenings at the cinema which are also available on satellite TV.

" No doubt piracy is a problem, but people are keen on the best movie experience. The cinema still has the advantage with its good sound system and picture quality," said Rajoo.

Odeon Cinema, also among the oldest cinemas in the country, was opened in the 1930s with about 800 seats. Playing mostly English and Malay movies, the one-screen cinema was shut down after a fire in 2000.

It was reopened last year after refurbishment works, with the screening of Indian-Tamil romantic comedy Kandeen.

The local production Hantu Bonceng also premiered there.

Now the cinema has 250 seats with one movie screen.

Antenna Entertainment Sdn Bhd director Liza Hussein said the cinema was special because it had the feel of an auditorium.

It is also more spacious compared with the other old cinemas, with a small bazaar outside. Tamil and Malay movies are now mostly screened there.

She said the location made the cinema accessible to foreign workers from the surrounding areas, such as Masjid India.

"As the Odeon cinema was not completely destroyed, we reopened it last year.

"Movie goers can also go shopping here before and after the movie," said Liza.

Most of the old cinemas have movie screenings at noon, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm from Sunday to Thursday.

Additional screenings are available on Friday, Saturday and public holidays.


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