When the curtains fall: It's 'Subham' for the iconic theatre AVM Rajeswari
AVM Rajeswari weathered imported popcorns, donuts and beverages in other theatres by selling wheel chips, flaky puffs and cone ice-creams that were reminiscent of an era long gone
Imagine the rollercoaster of cinema-consumption experiences of a 90s kid. From the age-old theatres with film projections to VCRs to VCDs to DVDs to pen-drives to HDDs to digital projection in theatres to smartphones and now... OTT. Through it all there were some memories that remained unblemished, unchanged, and unforgettable. One such memory for me truly became a thing of the past during this lockdown. One such memory abruptly ended without giving its patrons any warning sign.
The green and red neon sign that read "AVM Rajeswari" will not flicker at times... ever again. Although the management decided to close the curtains on one of the most iconic theatres in Chennai even before the lockdown was announced, many like me expected the theatre to return with a bang once the lockdown was revoked. Well...
As a kid growing up in Chennai's Kodambakkam, AVM Rajeswari was one of the many theatres that were quite close to home. Unlike other theatres surrounding that area, AVM Rajeswari was something special. The theatre shared a wall with the iconic AVM Studios that has made many a Superstar. It was the real dream factory. We got to see movies just a stone's throw away from the place those very movies were made. When we saw a Rajinikanth look at us and mouth one of his iconic punch dialogues, it gave us more goosebumps knowing he would have said them for the first time in one of those studio floors. Unlike now, considering there is a residential complex inside AVM Studios, it wasn't easy then to enter the studios. So, this was the closest you got to the dream factory. Even while watching a film at AVM Rajeswari, and munching on low-priced popcorn and crunchy egg puffs, you could imagine your matinee idol rehearsing for a scene in the adjacent building.
It was fitting that in an area that birthed Tamil Cinema, AVM Rajeswari was one of the last single-screen theatres standing. Some became multiplexes owned by major corporate chains. Some remodeled the original space to accommodate one more theatre. Some became food courts. New technologically-advanced multiplexes cropped up just metres away from it. And yet, AVM Rajeswari stood strong pricing its tickets at just Rs 50 for a box seat and Rs 40 for the other seats. It weathered imported popcorns, donuts and beverages in other theatres by selling wheel chips, coconut balls and cone ice-creams that were reminiscent of an era long gone.
For people who could afford the newer theatres all over Chennai, AVM Rajeswari was more like an Instagram-worthy experience. Personally, it was more than just that. It was all about nostalgia to a time when all that mattered in a movie was whether the hero won in the end. I couldn't care less about the sound and projection quality because the cheers drowned down anything else.
More importantly, theatres like AVM Rajeswari and its budget pricing is a reason why watching cinema in Chennai could still be considered a community experience. People who wanted to shell out Rs 200+ for a single ticket in nearby theatres could happily do so. However, an entire family of four could watch the same film for that amount at AVM Rajeswari, a legacy theatre at the heart of the city.
As someone growing up in any bustling metropolis, being witness to tectonic changes in things around you is inevitable. A favourite juice shop growing up could now be a swanky salon. A playground could now be a generic multi-storeyed apartment where elders reprimand kids playing loudly. Soon, something else will take the place of AVM Rajeswari. It could be an annex residential complex for the one built in AVM Studios. From imagining a star rehearsing in the adjacent building, it could soon become about two people worrying about shared car parking spots.
Change is inevitable, they say. Memories made are meant to fade, they say. For kids growing up now, AVM Rajeswari might just seem like a relic that couldn't keep up with modernity. However, for someone like me, who could sit on the lap of my parents when watching a movie for the first time there, and then at last count, watching a film not being able to fit myself comfortably into one of its box seats, this comes across as an untimely end of the journey of an entity that tried hard... very hard till the very last moment.
The shutting down of this landmark theatre was just like an Art film — We never saw the end credits coming.