I love to go to a regular movie theater, especially when the movie is a big crowd-pleaser. It’s much better watching a movie with 500 people making noise than with just a dozen.
– Steven Spielberg
I was eleven when I came to Chennai in 1999. I know nothing about the place. I was not aware of anything expect knowing that I had to study eleven subjects for my sixth grade. The thought was scary. After coming to Chennai, I was getting familiar with the neighbourhood — Ambattur, which was quite underdeveloped during that time. Since marina and Vandaloor zoo are far away, the only nearby entertainment we had was movie theaters. There were four movie theaters during that time. Rakki theatre, Murugan theater, Kannan theater which screened old movies for a cheaper price and a small theater called Abirami which screened B-grade soft core movies (you know what I mean). At eleven years, the thought of going to Abirami theater never crossed my mind. By the time I grew up, the theatre was no more (what a pity!).
My first movie in Chennai was “Vaali” starring Ajith and Simran. My mom took me to the movie along with my mama and his family. My dad doesn’t watch a lot of movies. We saw the movie in Murugan theater. But I kinda didn’t like the theater. I felt like I doesn’t belong there. Then the next time, they took me to Rakki theater. The dungeon like ticket counter, poorly maintained wooden seats, smelly bathrooms should have made me hate the place. But it didn’t. I felt comfortable in spite of all those issues. When my mom and dad were abusing the theater’s poor maintanence, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (I guess it was “Mudhalvan”. Not sure). Ever since, Rakki was my destination. Till 2008, the ticket prices did not go above 50 rupees. So whenever I get money, I used to spend it on movies.
During festivals like Diwali and Pongal, my mom used to give money. If she gives a hundred bucks, watching two movies is the only thing that would cross my mind. I deeply fell in love with cinema and Rakki was the reason behind it. In a way, I would say that my love for story telling started in Rakki theater.
The photograph of Rakki theater taken by me in 2011
When I think about it now, the theater brings a lot of nostalgic memories like watching Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” with a jam packed crowd, dancing with my friends for some song from “Thiruvilayadal arambam”, waiting at the ticket counter for the first day first show of “Casino Royale”, admiring the cinematography of “Porkalam” in an empty theater, screaming thalaivar’s name watching “Sivaji: The Boss”, the guy next to me who screamed at John Cusack for badly driving the limousine in the movie “2012”, and pathetic cries of people when they get ticket for a tamil dubbed movie and the reel mistakenly plays the English version. Whenever I think about a movie, I also think about where I watched it and with whom I watched it. And most of my memories are tied to Rakki theatre.
When I see now, the theater has developed a lot. Now, it is a flashy three storey building with reflective glass on the outside. It has online ticket booking, cushion seats and neatly maintained washrooms. Recently they have introduced 3D and Dolby Atmos sound system. What more can I ask for? I feel happy and proud to see my theater come this far from how it looked in 1999. I feel like it grew along with me, learning from its experiences, adapting to the changing environment just for its love for cinema.
Many people consider movie theaters as just a venue to watch movies. But it has indirectly got a lot more to it. It has deep ties most of your childhood and teen memories. I still prefer Rakki rather than going to other big screens in the city. It makes me feel like home, and that is all I need from a theater.