The end of a golden era for cinema fans

Stabroek News
September 21, 2000

When the curtains finally fell on the silver screen at the Liberty cinema yesterday it marked the end of a golden era for fans of the Indian film industry.

For 36 years the Liberty cinema had offered moviegoers affordable entertainment and a chance to indulge in the pleasure of watching their favourite stars in much-anticipated pictures of all genres. Following years of unfair competition and worsening economic conditions, the manager of the cinema Pradeep Samtani is throwing in the towel after a long and valiant fight. The New Thriving restaurant is set to take the place of this popular working man's cinema. The Indian movie formula of high drama, comedy, the triumph of good over evil and the defining music, which resonated decades after the movies played, provided wholesome entertainment.

Over decades, the Indian film industry evolved before the eyes of the Guyanese cognoscenti, the thousands of families who found quality time at matinees, young couples on dates and virtually every stratum of society. Bollywood reigned supreme in the early years in the absence of the now all-pervasive television set. And what rich, unforgettable fare it was. From sixties classics like Aan to Sholay, Kabhi Kabhi, Yaadon Ki Baraat, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan to the latter day hits like Taal, Dil To Pagal Hai and Kutch Kutch Hota Hai audiences were captivated. Each and every cinema fan could relate with great fervour their favourite movies, the Lata and Rafi songs they kept humming long after and their opinion on the top `star boy' and `star girl'.

And stars there were on the big screen from Dharmendra, Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Vijayanthimala, Sadhana, Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh, Hema Malini, Mumtaz, Amitabh Bachan, Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, Waheeda Rehman, Babita, the Khan brothers, the anti heroes like Pran, Prem Chopra and Ajit and the unforgettable comedians like Mehmood, Johnny Walker, Tun Tun and Asit Sen. Today's new crop of stars headlined by Madhuri Dixit, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwariya Rai, Kajol and Karisma Kapoor have also galvanised just as loyal a following.

In Georgetown, however, their cinematic fortunes will mostly be followed on the small screen. Fifteen-inch TVs are no substitute for the life-like, surround sound atmosphere of a real movie house where watching a film had become an important socialising event outside of the home.

With the closure of the Empire cinema several years earlier, yesterday's final curtain call at Liberty truly signifies the end of a glorious tradition for Bollywood fans. It is a harbinger of what the rest of the cinema industry faces. With easy access to DVDs and the relentless pirating and broadcasting by television stations of the latest releases the cinema has become an endangered past time. As we have said before cinemas here did not evolve to respond to the challenges of the last 20 years or so and inevitably they faced enormous problems and dwindling audiences. It is sad, however, that this cinema has had to go and a clutch of others is now likely to follow it.

While cinemas in some outlying areas might survive because of limited entertainment opportunities, those in the city are definitely under threat. The government appears to be singularly uninterested in providing any help to the industry even that which is legitimately due to it such as rigidly enforcing the extant copyright provisions.

Cultural life in the city and the country will be much poorer with the closure of these cinemas. The government and the ministry of culture should take a closer look at this fast receding form of entertainment. Otherwise, we will be doomed to suffer an ever-expanding legion of fast food restaurants and the impersonal TV experience.

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