Monday, February 17, 2014

Historic 'Electric Cinema Theatre' turns to 'Philatelic Bureau' in Anna Salai, Chennai

The quaint red and white building stands at the Mount Road (Anna Salai) Post Office premises  has over 100 years  history.  It is learned from the plaque that this building was built in 1900 by Warwick Major and and Reginald Eyre. Later in 1913 these two people converted this as cinema (cinematography) theatre and named it as 'electric theatre.'  There this event makes the year 2013, officially the 100th year of Indian cinema.

Often historically there is a confusion about the first cinema theatre in India. The 'electric theatre' often claimed and even reported in newspaper columns as the first cinema (silent movie) theatre in India as well as in Madras (Chennai). Truly speaking Mrs.Klug was the first one to develop 'permanent cinema theatre' by name “The Broadway Bioscope” or simply “The Bioscope” in April 1911 in the first floor of No. 16, Popham's Broadway in George Town (just south of Loane Square and opposite Harrison and Co.), Madras. However at the initial stages the cinema theatre was not a purpose built one for screening films. After a months interval (May 30, 1911) Mrs.Klug claimed her theatre as permanent one for film shows. The building which housed Mrs. Klug's Bio scope still exists in Broadway, George Town, Chennai. Therefore Mrs.Klug's 'The Broadway Bioscope' at Popham merits as the first permanent cinema theatre.  The Warwick Major's 'electric theatre' could be claimed as the first theatre in Mount Road zone. In the same year (1913) another theatre known by name, the 'Lyric theatre' began screening silent movie at the first floor of the building known as Misquith & Co.”

Two years later, 'electric theatre' was closed down by the owners and the building was sold to Postal and Telegraph Department in 1915 and the brief cinema history came to an end. In recent years, the facade of the building and a part of its interior have been restored and serve, since 1998, as the city's Philatelic Bureau. However its importance is concerned with its historical significance than its architectural features. Chennai has a long and vibrant philatelic tradition and the exhibitions at Philatelic Bureau are becoming the regular feature.

These two theatres led to a gradual rise to few more cinema theatres in the city. Raghupati Venkaiah Naidu was the first Indian to own cinema theatre in Madras. He developed Gaiety Talkies in 1913 on Mount Road as the first Indian-owned cinema theatre. Later he also developed Crown Theatre (1916) on Mint street and Globe Theatre (1917) in Purasaiwakkam (later named as Roxy). The other cinema theatres include Elphinstone (1915), Wellington (1918), Empire cinema later renamed Minerva Theatre (1920), Imperial Cinema - a later renamed as Star Talkies (1924) and Broadway Theatre (1924). 


  1. Chennai's first cinema house now serves as philatelic bureau
  2. Looking back on Chennai’s first ever Electric Theatre
  3.  Madras’s first cinema theatre
  4. Our tryst with celluloid magic
  5. Urban mobility and the history of cinema going by Stephen Hughes.

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