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.