Guwahati: Iconic Anuradha Cinema Completes 50 Years of Film Screening; To Reopen on Jan 15
The rapidly growing metropolitan of Guwahati today has a number of multiplex cinemas, and this number is ever-increasing alongside the evolvement of technology. But the single large screen theatres have a special place in the hearts of the Guwahatians.
At a time when beaten by the unprecedented pandemic, four cinema halls of the city - Apsara, Urvashi, Meghdoot and Vandana are on the verge of shutting down, the Anuradha Cineplex has geared up to reopen anew, as it celebrates 50 years of entertaining the people of the state.
On 1st January, 2021 Anuradha Cinema celebrated its Golden Jubilee. The theatre will hopefully reopen on 15th of January after almost 10 months of closure, informed proprietor Chinmoy Sharma proudly.
Let’s take a stroll back to where it all started!
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Phani Sharma, who originally hailed from Machkhowa village of Dhakuakhana, Dhemaji, established the cinema hall in 1971.
His son, Chinmoy Sharma, the present owner of the hall recalls, “My father Phani Sharma owned a transport business then, by the name Sharma Transport. My mother, Rina Sharma wondered if they could set up a steady business and they decided to set up a cinema hall.”
The present plot of land was bought from two owners in 1968. Almost everyone, from friends to relatives, opposed the idea and criticized Dr. Sharma of planning a business in a place that had a scanty population, inaccessible roads and very few modes of transportation. However, being well determined and confident with his plan, he started working on his dream project.
“An architect from Calcutta, who had designed many cinema halls of West Bengal, was asked to design Anuradha Cinema and construction of the hall completed towards the end of 1970.
On 1st January, 1971, the theatre was inaugurated by the then chief minister of Assam, Mahendra Mohan Choudhury, and the guest of honour was Radha Govinda Baruah, who was also the mentor of Phani Sharma.
Anuradha Cinema Hall could initially host 1,132 people. A first-class seat cost 80 paisa, middle class was Re. 1, a popular class ticket cost Rs. 1.22, balcony was Rs. 3.25 and the most expensive 'special box seat' cost Rs. 3.60. The theatre opened for public with the Dharmendra - Hema Malini starrer, "Tum Haseen Main Jawaan.”
During those days, the main road ended at Chandmari and the road onwards was just a small gravel road. People were reluctant to travel so far to watch a movie. To overcome the obstacle of transportation, Dr. Sharma himself arranged two buses – one towards Pandu and the other towards Six Mile to transport people free of cost for the shows.
Starting from the print form and adapting to the latest digital technology, Anuradha has endeavoured to provide the best experience in cinema at an affordable price for the people of Guwahati.
“Earlier there were these machines for the film prints, and there were about 18 reels of 20 minutes for each movie. We had to keep on changing them every 20 minutes. Then about 20 years ago, we changed to digital,” Chinmoy Sharma recalled.
He continued, “From 1984-1990, we fought hard for our survival like many others in a period when the business of cinema halls was facing challenges. We were not the main hall and got the film prints after it was played in the foremost halls like Apsara, Urvashi, Kelvin and others for about 4 to 5 weeks.”
“When I took over, I negotiated with Meghdoot Cinema to provide me with the reels so we could play alongside them. Our show timings started about 45 minutes after them. I prepared three auto-rickshaws that used to move to and fro, carrying the reels once they were done playing in Meghdoot. Then again we had to return them for the next show. It was difficult but we proved ourselves to the distributors that we could do much better if prints were provided to us directly,” he wistfully added.
Later Anuradha adapted to the latest digital technology from UFO, the first in the entire northeast, despite the latter’s reluctance to invest in the region due to militancy problems. Anuradha was also the first to set up Dolby Digital sound system in the state as well as 3D technology, and also central air conditioning.
"We always felt that big sound big screen will always attract more people and we wanted to provide the latest developments in the field of cinema to the people of Guwahati, but at an affordable price," said Chinmoy Sharma.
“We have seen far glorious times and hope to keep up the same. Unlike now, one movie used to run for 3 to 4 weeks earlier. Raj Kapoor himself presented an award to my father for running the film “Bobby” successfully for 100 days in our hall. Even Dr. Bezbarua played for over 100 days. Dr. Bhabendra Nath Saikia always premiered his movies here,” he said.
After about 10 months of lockdown, Anuradha Cinema, now Cineplex is undergoing a major facelift and will hopefully be reopened by 15th January. The auditorium has been converted in tune with the multiplexes, the ground floor being rented away to meet the losses incurred during the lockdown. The seating capacity has been lessened to around 450. Yet the owners are determined to fight the struggling times rather than accept defeat and close down altogether.
Despite adapting to new developments, the cinema hall continues to follow certain practices; the lifting of the curtains to the tune of a Bihu song and the playing of the National Anthem portraying the art and culture of the people of the Northeast before every show is still in place.
"We have incurred huge losses, but for us the hall is more than just a profit centre. The emotions of the Assamese people are involved and we would like to keep it up. Our USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is that we try to give a homely feel to our patrons and keep the old sentiments alive. But as we complete 50 years we wish to present the people of the state with a new Anuradha,” Sharma said.
To the difficulties faced by the cinema halls of the city he added, “It is hard for everyone and the investments needed are huge. But the key to survive is to adapt with the times. Developments should be made where and when necessary. Every day some new technology is developed and as the owners we must try our best to adapt these to the extent possible. Only then can we survive.”
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