Madras memories: Aladdin, Alankar Theatre and a cult following

Posted on April 1, 2014


After a random thought or noticing something that got my mind ticking, I watched Disney’s 1992 animated-hit Aladdin. Thinking more about it, I realised it was only the second time I watched the movie. The first being in the theatre probably as a toddler, but few memories fail to fall apart, few memories of Madras which forever will stay. I am not sure when the movie released at home, it could probably be around 1992-1995 (given the delay in release in those days), but I am very sure the movie also released in Alankar Theatre on Mount Road. I would have been anywhere between the age 3-5, and it is surprising that I can recall all this. There was big larger than life cut out of the azure Genie sporting that wide smile and below Aladdin and Jasmine riding on the carpet.

The cut out looked similar to the poster.

The cut out looked similar to the poster.

You may not forget Robin Williams’ superb voicing of Genie, but, at the same time, there may be many who will not remember Alankar Theatre.

Alankar Theatre belongs to the breed of the now-defunct single screen (?) cinemas in Madras. It stood proudly off Mount Road till it made way for the Raheja Towers, not very far from LIC.

Alankar Theatre was famous for another reason too. If Albert was the hub for Rajni movies, Alankar was the temple for Jackie Chan movies. My parents took me to Jackie Chan movies and a big portion of them at Alankar Theatre. One Jackie Chan movie, I have still not watched is Thunderbolt. It was one afternoon back in the 90s when the plan was to see Thunderbolt at Alankar. But sadly tickets were not available. My father went up to the office to try his luck, but sadly Thunderbolt did not happen that evening.

Thunderbolt's Chinese poster

Thunderbolt’s Chinese poster

Jackie Chan movies used to be a regular family outing. After moving to Mumbai in 2012, I have realised one thing; Jackie’s cult lies in Madras. He has a mad fan following back home, especially in the generation preceding mine. As it turns out, Jackie Chan movies were dubbed from Chinese and released mainly in Madras where his market was huge, I don’t know if it was released in other cities. And going by what I have found out in Mumbai, not so much. I saw promos for his film CZ12 in Madras, but the film did not even release in Mumbai. Most of the films were got in by Oscar (now Aascar) V. Ravichandran and their Tamil dubbing version had a simultaneous release.

Their fan following still exists in Madras, even though they  are well past their prime.

Their fan following still exists in Madras, even though they are well past their prime.

Jackie Chan was not the only foreign hero who had such a cult following in Madras, but Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stallone were equally adored if not more. A conversation I overheard once in an MTC bus, “Eh machi ‘Arnald’ padam paathiya, summa thaaru-maaru da,” said a passenger.

Translation: Hey dude, did you see the latest Arnold movie, it was super-duper awesome.

Even yours truly is a big fan of these three. Sometimes you may get a ticket for the English version of the movies easily on an evening, but not for the Tamil dubbing ones.

Staying away from home really makes you dig through memories stored deep down.