GUNTUR: Tenali, called Andhra Paris for its canals and cool weather, is also famous for its movie theatres that have a history of over 75 years. Some of the theatres are now disappearing as their owners don’t find them profitable anymore due to the hike in movie ticket prices and with several OTT (over-the-top) platforms gaining popularity among cinegoers.
One of such theatres was Swaraj Talkies, which was inaugurated on August 15, 1947, the day India got Independence. The theatre’s name was chosen to celebrate the country’s new-found freedom. Etched into the memories of many for its contribution to the Telugu cinema, the theatre was demolished recently to build a profitable venture — a shopping complex.
Going back in time, local businessman Nannapaneni Linga Rao, with his relatives Ithanagar Gopal Rao and Vattikuti Butchaiah Chowdary, started building the theatre in 1945 with an intention to entertain people. Equipment was imported from London and Japan, and the theatre construction was completed by 1947 at a cost of Rs 1.24 lakh.
Sri Rama Jananam was the first movie the theatre screened. At the 100-day celebration of Suvarna Sundari, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Anjali Devi had come to Tenali–a memory the townsmen and women cherish till this day.
Starcast of several unforgettable movies, including Sri Venkateswara Mahathyam, Jagadekaveeruni Katha, Suvarna Sundari, Pandava Vanavasam, Gundamma Katha, Bhatti Vikramarka and Dana Veera Sura Karna, along with the more recent hits such as Gang Leader, Pasivadi Pranam, Marana Mridangam, Yamudiki Mogudu and Kondaveeti Raja celebrated the 100th day of their screening here.
The theatre was remodelled in 1984 and 1998 with latest technologies of those eras. The last owner of Swaraj Talkies, VSK Prasad, said the theatre was the legacy and pride of his grandfather and uncles. “It is really heartbreaking that we had to shut down the theatre, but we were left with no other option. We used to pay about Rs 40-60 lakh to distributors in advance. As the ticket fare increased, the number of people coming to visit the movie decreased gradually leaving us in losses,’’ he said.
Prasad revealed that he was not even in a position to pay salaries to staff. “Instead, we are planning to build a shopping complex so that the people who have been working with us from the start, can survive too,” he added.
The demolition has left citizens of Tenali, especially the elderly people unhappy. Kasi Maheswara Rao, a sexagenarian, said, “I watched several movies in Swaraj Talkies. I can’t even imagine any complex in place of Swaraj Talkies,’’ he rued.