Safire Theatre: Those were the days when……

The Safire Theatre complex was probably the first real multiplex in India when it opened in the mid sixties. It consisted of the main theatre, Safire, and two smaller theatres; Emerald and Blue Diamond. I believe there was also a small preview theatre. All of this at a fabulous location on Anna Salai (then Mount Road) near the Gemini Flyover (those days a major intersection with signals).

What made the Safire Theatre complex unique was the way it was run. You see, Safire was for the mainline English films, Blue Diamond was for off beat films, or reruns of films that had already shown in Chennai. And Blue Diamond would start screening films in the morning at 9 AM and run continuous back to back shows up to midnight! While Emerald showed Hindi films.

On top of this well ordered show plan, Safire was marketed well, and used ideas to capture people’s imagination. For example, when they screened ‘Those magnificent men and their flying machines’ (corrected it!), they actually parked an old bi-plane in front of the theatre! Even before that, the first film I remember seeing was ‘The sound of music’ after Safire ensured that many schools sent their kids to see it along with their teachers!

The number of fabulous films that one has seen there from childhood to when I left for Delhi to work when I was twenty was like the DVD collection I would like to have today! From Westerns like “For a few dollars more’ and ‘The Pitiless Three’ to Sci-fi; ‘2001, a Space Odyssey’, ‘Patton’, ‘Round the world in eighty days’, ‘Woodstock’, ‘The dirty dozen’, ‘Dirty Harry’, ‘Mackenna’s Gold’, Safire screened an eclectic mix to enthrall Chennai audiences. They had wooden displays in the entrance foyer where the names of the films shown at the theatre were faithfully painted under the respective years in which they were screened.

Many are the days we whiled away at Blue Diamond as teenagers, on dates or simply to spend the holidays doing something pleasurable. Films like ‘Blow hot, blow cold’, ‘The moon’s a balloon’, ‘The Mackenzie Break’, ‘If its Tuesday this must be Belgium’ and other off beat and mainstream films. It used to be such an experience to walk in in the middle of a film, find a seat, watch till the end, sit through the short break and then watch the first half (and maybe see the full film again!)!

All the other large theatre complexes came up many years later; Devi, Devi Paradise, Devi Bala& Devi Kala followed by the Sathyam Cinema complex. Casino used to screen many good English films as well, including some powerful films like ‘Highway Queen’ and ‘Mad Max’. And I remember seeing ‘Rollerball’ and ‘Enter the Dragon’ at Anand! But Safire was always special because it was the first theatre complex here, and the way it was managed and marketed.

Sadly it is no more, brought down by greed, manipulation and political muscle. But it will always live on in my memory for the many magical moments I spent there as a boy, and later as a teenager.

6 Comments so far

  1. AnonGoat (unregistered) on July 13th, 2006 @ 1:20 am

    Those wonderful men and their flying machines

    Bzzz. No such movie. IMDB suggests “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes”.

  2. paul.a.joseph (unregistered) on July 13th, 2006 @ 5:02 am

    anda naal neyabagam vandataey!!!thanks for the memories mr.appaswamy- very well written piece taking a fellow madrasi down memory lane of good times-a paradise lost forever especially for expats from N.A.KEEP UP THE GOOD WORKS bye for now from Toronto-canada.

  3. Nancy (unregistered) on July 13th, 2006 @ 11:20 am

    I went to lunch at Safire once, soon before it closed – there used to be a pretty good Gujarati / Rajasthani restaurant in the complex, called Navratna.

    Another good piece from you.

  4. Kiruba Shankar (unregistered) on July 13th, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

    Brilliant one, David. I have seen quite a few movies there as a kiddo and have fond memories.

    Sigh! Miss the place.

  5. Kumar (unregistered) on July 15th, 2006 @ 5:04 pm

    Safire also had the first arcade games in Madras.
    I remember playing my first video game there in the
    mid-70’s. (tennis for two)
    It was there that I saw star Wars/Chitty chitty bang
    bang / ..
    Great theater, great memories ..

  6. Lavanya (unregistered) on July 15th, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

    David – my parents have been raving about this post of yours! Thank you for giving me a wonderful evening of flashback with them.

    I have been to Navratna though – used to be an excellent place.

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