Features

West End of Cinema – Part 1

West End theatre in Pune in its old form was a quintessential movie theatre. It was (and still is) in the heart of Pune cantonment.

A tall wall flanked by two open gates at the centre of the compound wall displayed the poster of the film that was playing. In the courtyard of mud and pebbles an odd car passing you by would produce a crunchy sound as the wheels ground the pebbles.

Next came the tiled section on the ground that led to a portico that protruded from a lobby. It was an open lobby and ticket windows were on the sides. Two staircases from either ends of the lobby led to the balcony. The lobby extended on one side of the theatre as a verandah on both the floors. Sliding grille-doors with black curtains inside and outside formed the entrances. On the walls in the lobby and the verandah were hung the standard sized photographs of the Hollywood stars.

Opposite the verandah was the canteen. The canteen had a large, spacious wooden counter with soda fountains and glass cupboards on the back wall and was open from all sides. A bicycle stand stood at the back of the theatre and a handful of cars and two wheelers were easily contained in the courtyard in front. There was a small gate at the back, usually kept close, except for a small portion of it, through which the Bhelwallas and Panipuriwallas conducted their business at the time of intervals from outside the premises.

The atmosphere was extremely relaxed and conducive to watching films. The expectation started building up as you entered the lobby and secured the ticket. The middle section of the balcony was the most sought after, as it had large wooden chairs with cane fittings and ample space to stretch one’s legs. Of course, there was an odd bug at times and sometimes the curtain flew in the breeze bringing in the daylight, thanks to a careless doorkeeper. But the atmosphere of cinema was palpable and complete with the smell of popcorn and wafers.

I saw several memorable films there like The Godfather, the Spaghetti Westerns, What’s Up Doc?, Paper Moon, all the John Wayne and Clint Eastwood films and Ankur too.

Today West End is a part of a building, but thankfully it has an independent access and exit and you travel vertically instead of horizontally to its innards.

Nowadays the picture and sound that we get in West End as well the other theatres is un-comparably better to what we used to get. Luxury seats and AC are not added attractions, but a norm. The multiplexes have given a new lease of life even to a small budget film, created new possibilities of business. And we have adapted to the change. We ignore the food courts through which we have to pass: we get irritated at the dark, narrow, cavernous corridors that lead to the auditorium. Cell phone users inside the hall leave us exasperated at times, but we do continue to watch films. Cinema goes on and as long as cinema goes on, life is meaningful.

Continue to Part 2 here.

 

11 Comments

  • Anil,
    Loved the pictures. What character! Sadly in my days at the FTII, West End was already in its new avtar as part of a building and next to Manneys.

    And you brought back some very nice memories of my watching films in my growing up years in the 70s and 80s. For me it was largely Lido, Plaza, Blue Moon, Blue Diamond and Rex in Bangalore and Assembly Rooms in Ooty!

  • Hi,

    Anil, you can definitely get this published either at express or TOI.

    I wish you could have included a photo of west end in 2009 as well.

    cheers

  • Thanks for your comments The Third Man, Shyam and Ehsan. They are encouraging. FYI the where the traffic island was[ in the old photograph] , there stands the statue of Ambedkar and the small white structure behind the trees was where the soda fountain canteen was. Today it is the entrance to the Hotel Aurora Towers. I shall try and get a photograph showing West End as it looks today from across the square, from where the photograph was taken,.

  • Anil,
    What a nostalgia trip…
    Apart from many westerns that I saw there, I watched mesmerised as the lyrical and poetic nostalgia, ‘Pakeezah’ came alive on that westend screen way back before I joined FTII to study cinema. It was one of the factors that affected me and pulled me closer to cinema… Watching a film at West End was kind of different because you felt like you were not sneaking into a dark auditorium incognito for some entertainment but were walking into a ‘theatre’ to be a part of something special that would come alive on the screen inside. West End had that magic and you have stirred those memories… Thanks..!

  • More nostalgia than I can handle. 🙂

    I have yet to come to terms with the Pune of today. It’s sad when Kandivali seems less crowded than Pune.

    I don’t remember any of the films I saw at West End, but do remember all my friends and our trips there.

    But then, I loved all those theatres, Victory, Shree Krishna, Alpana, each one of them had some distinct characteristic because of the locality it was in.

  • The snaps are by someone in Pune in the olden times. I do not even know who took them. Yes, the theatres had a lot of their surroundings reflected in them. Multiplexes are more like McDonalds , the same everywhere.

  • Amazing journey way back in time!! Really awesome pictures. Got me nostalgic of my teenage years and all the great movies I saw in the West End theatre seated in the very comfortable easy chairs The theatre had such a unique character and I think all youngsters of the 60’s and 70’s had some kind of emotional bonding with the West End theatre. I remember so many entertaining films I saw Ben-Hur, Ten Commandments, Come September, Alfred Hitchcok films and oh so many more. Wish we could put the clock back.

  • The pictures took me back to 1970’s . My dad used to love to go to this theatre. I watched Jason and his argonauts here.

  • West End was one of the Jewels in the crown of Pune. I studied at the AFMC from 1974 to 1979 and West End was the ultimate as far as english movies were concerned. I remember those lovely evenings when we watched those spaghetti westerns, the genuine westerns, etc… . The other attraction? The Soda fountain on the right side, which was a must visit with every movie that we saw. Lots of space, clean fresh air….Pune was really a slice of Heaven. Sadly today we need to wear a gas mask if we visit MG road , the crowds, the noise and the pollution….it is really sad.
    Well….that is progress…

    ……or is it?

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