4 Chennai: the Electric Cinema
Along Anna Salai - Mount Road to those of a particular vintage - and tucked back a little from the furious flow of traffic is a quaint, curious-looking building now more than a century old. It proclaims itself to be the 'first cinema house of South India'.
This was the Electric- "a large corrugated iron shell with a brick facade", according to a comment cited in S. Muthiah's magisterial Madras Rediscovered - which started screening silent films in 1913. Muthiah suggests that a Mrs Klug showed films for a few months a couple of years earlier in a venue called the Bioscope - but let's let that pass.
The shed became the rather fetching building which still stands. Within a couple of years of starting as a movie house, the Electric was sold and became a post office.
The city's much more modern main post office now looms over the original building, which survives as Chennai's philatelic bureau.
I popped in one Saturday morning to see what's left of the (distinctly stylish) interior of the Electric. The bureau wasn't busy - four counters were open, and customers ... there were none.
When an eager assistant asked if she could be of assistance, I guiltily admitted I had come simply to admire the old building not the old stamps.
If the Electric is the ancient, just round the corner on Blackers Road is the modern side of Chennai cinema. The Casino is a striking post-modernist design and it shows movies in both Tamil and Telugu.
Cinemas here as elsewhere have lost some of their pulling power in the digital era, but movies remain popular in South India - after all it's home to one of the world's biggest film industries.
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