Cinemas are more than just about the movie on screen (2024)

It was reported recently that the Cathay Cineplexes in AMK Hub would screen its last movie this Sunday as its lease has ended.

The name Cathay brings back many happy memories for me as it was there that my lifelong experience with cinemas and movies began.

It was in the early-60s when I was six that Dad took the family to watch Hatari! at the old Cathay cinema at Handy Road in the city.

The movie was about the exploits of a big game hunter in Africa and the lead actor was none other than Hollywood icon John Wayne.

I, of course, didn’t have a clue who John Wayne was and I was more interested in the poor rhino he was trying to snare, while chasing it down in a Land Rover.

What an experience it was, though, and I’m sure it brought back a few memories for Dad, too.


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During the three years of the Japanese Occupation from 1942, his family lived at 42 Waterloo Street, a stone’s throw from Cathay Building where his father worked as a broadcast journalist for the Indian National Army.

It was then the tallest building in Singapore with a 16-storey tower and the Japanese regularly used the landmark to display the severed heads of those who refused to fall in line.

Dad never took us back to the Cathay again.

Instead we went to watch Tamil movies at the Ciros theatre at Telok Blangah and the Royal and Diamond theatres situated near each other at North Bridge Road.

That was the era of MGR and Sivaji Ganesan – the John Waynes of Tamil cinema.

They had numerous fans in Singapore and one was either an MGR fan or a Sivaji fan. Royal screened MGR movies while Diamond was Sivaji’s domain.

Occasionally, rival fans, intoxicated by more than just the cinematic experience, would indulge in theatrics of their own outside the cinema hall, their punches and flying kicks rivalled only by what they had witnessed minutes earlier.

Dad decided we didn’t need to hang around for the sequel, so we made a beeline for the bustop.

In time, we didn’t have to travel to the city to watch movies.

Movies came to us when Venus and Golden City cinemas opened near our Margaret Drive home in Queenstown, shortly after Singapore’s independence in 1965.

For what was then a princely sum of 50 cents, I watched Tarzan swinging through the trees in his loincloth, Benhur racing a chariot of horses around a Roman ring and Mary Poppins flying through the air with an umbrella.

In 1972, life imitated art when the notorious gangster Lim Ban Lim, who had killed a policeman, was himself gunned down by the cops near Golden City. It was curtains for Lim.

For the rest of us, life and the movies went on.

Across from my old school in Bras Basah Road was the Capitol cinema where I watched Dracula starring Christopher Lee who played the timeless vampire.

Schoolboys would regularly visit the cinema as there were student discounts in those days.

Growing up, I also frequented the old Lido cinema, Orchard cinema, the Odeon theatre in North Bridge Road and Prince theatre in Beach Road where I watched John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever with a group of NS buddies.

There was also a kampung theatre I went to occasionally, called Starlight, in Pasir Panjang where I watched the Beatles in Hard Day’s Night while seated on a bench.

The movies I will never forget though are Gandhi, The Godfather, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Exorcist and All The President’s Men, which inspired me to become a journalist.

When I was dating my wife Chitra, I introduced her to fish head curry and Freddy Krueger, a bogeyman character who slashed his victims to death with knives for fingers, in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

She wasn’t amused. The fish head definitely left a bigger impression on her than did Freddy.

When the kids came along, we took them to The Lion King, Jurassic Park and the entire Harry Potter series.

They’ve since left the nest, but we still go to the movies together as we did last Sunday when we went to Lido to watch Origin, a controversial movie about caste.

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of going to the cinema and I’m glad that seniors like me can get a discount on weekdays.

Watching a movie at home may be a great experience for many but for me, nothing beats watching it in a cinema hall while sipping a co*ke and munching on my popcorn.

Long may the Force be with me...

Cinemas are more than just about the movie on screen (2024)


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