History of Cinema Halls in the Yangon City
The Myanmar motion picture appeared round about the year 1920 in the city of Rangoon (Yangon). A few cinema halls were showing the foreign movies long before the first Myanmar motion picture was shown. It is assumed that the earliest small cinema hall was situated at the corner of Canal Street (now Anawrahta Road) and Godwin Road (now Myoma Kyaung Street). It was called Edison cinema hall built with canvas. Inside the hall, the audience was charged with a few coins of the Indian Rupee for mats and benches. The movies mostly shown were just fragments without a story.
In the year 1915-16, a new cinema hall “Cinema de Paris” built with a galvanized iron sheet was inaugurated to show the foreign motion pictures. It was owned by a foreigner Mr. A. H. Ahachar and built on the vacant plot of Scott Market. Not long after this new hall appeared, two new cinema halls “Elephant Stone” and “New Pharasi Empire” had sprung up adjacent to this theatre. The movies shown at these theatres were all silent pictures and the Indo-Burma musicians played the movie songs inside the theatre.
In 1920, the first Myanmar motion picture “Love and Liqueur” – a love story had appeared and was shown at the Cinema de Paris theatre, drawing a large crowd of the city dwellers. In those days all the cinema halls were located only in the centre of the city. The Indian businessmen constructed many new cinema halls round about the year 1920. A few years later, Cinema de Paris and Elephant Stone theatres were demolished to let the new Scott Market to be built on this plot of land. Mr. A. E. H. Ahachar, the owner of Cinema de Paris and Elephant Stone, built a new cinema hall “Royal” quickly at the corner of Montgomery Road (now Bogyoke Aung San Road) and 30th Street.
Many new cinema halls had sprung up along the Sule Pagoda Road, Montgomery Road and Phayre Street (now Pansodan Street) one after another. Globe, Palladium, Majestic, Hipodrone or Dagon Cinema had sprung up in the Sule Pagoda Road while Pathi Cinema, Royal, Excelsior, King Cinema, and Olympia were constructed along the Montgomery Road. At the middle block of Phayre Street, there were Elephant Stone, Queen Cinema Hall, Cinema de Paris, and Sharhall which have sprung up one after another. In Addition to these new theatres, there appeared two new halls – Dosonni on the Fraser Road (now Anawrahta Road) and Kathay on the Canal Street.
In those days all the cinema halls or movie theatres were owned by Indian nationals. There were only ten film companies which produced only 36 Myanmar motion pictures (all silent movies) in one year. These film companies were British Burma, A-1, Parrot, Yangon Yokeshin, Shwe Myint Mo, Shwe Pyi Soe, B. T. Tin, Zabu Meik Swe, East Inn, and Bagyat Burma.
At its early stage of showing the motion pictures, almost all the cinema halls had been changed to new names, thereby Queen cinema, Elephant Stone, Cinema de Paris, Dosonni, Majestic, and Pathi cinema became Star, Jamal, Gayti, Joti, Plazar, and Elite respectively. In the meantime, Plazar cinema hall had been changed to Odeon again.
All these cinema halls had shown the American and British silent movies only. Only a few cinema halls had shown the Myanmar silent movies. The British Burma Film Co., Ltd. which produced most of the Myanmar motion pictures had rented Star cinema hall by signing a contract for 6 1/2 years at the rate of Rupees 6,000 per month and had shown the motion pictures produced by its company.
Meanwhile, managing director of the British Burma Film Co. U Nyunt asked for financial assistance from a wealthy person Sir U Thwin and built “Thwin Cinema Hall” in 1937 at a cost about Rs. 170,000. It was the first cinema hall owned by the Myanmar national. The opening ceremony of the new cinema hall was inaugurated on 1st January 1937 with a show Myanmar talkie movie “Taw Lay Wa” directed by U Maung Gyi, starring Ba Tint and May May Win. In those days there were only four cinema halls which usually showed the Myanmar motion pictures, viz: Star, Olympia, Thwin and King cinema halls. Odeon and Dagon cinema halls had shown the Myanmar motion pictures occasionally. It was the normal condition of the cinema halls in the downtown Rangoon.
The wartime during the Japanese Regime
When the Second World War broke out in December 1941, the city dwellers left the city and took refuge at Sagaing Hill and Po Wun Hill to avoid the Japanese and Allied bombings. Those who were left behind in the city took refuge at the pagodas, monasteries, nunneries, and Zayats. Especially Bahan, Kandawgyi and its environs were very busy with the war refugees. Lwin Lwin, Kandawmeik, Kandaw Mingalar, and Myine became the prominent cinema halls and pyazat halls later.
As no more imported film was available, the whole movie industry came to a standstill. Repeated showings of the Myanmar motion pictures which were filmed before the War made the people feel bored. So they flocked to these cinema halls to enjoy the Myanmar Pyazats.
During the wartime, the cinema halls which had usually shown the foreign movies were changed into Myanmar names and showed the Myanmar motion pictures. Thus, Odeon became Yangon Yokeshin Yontaw and showed the Myanmar motion pictures which were filmed by Yangon Yokeshin Co., Ltd. before the War. Geiti became Mingalar Myint which showed the B. T. Tin Co’s motion pictures, viz: “Chit Tai Zaw”, “Ye Nyi Naung” etc. Shar Hall became Shwe Myint Mo which showed the Shwe Myint Mo’s movies.
Similarly, Excelsior, Joti, and Jamar became A-1 Yontaw, Yan Aung Cinema, and Khit Thit cinema halls respectively and showed old Myanmar movies.
There was a new cinema hall sprung up at the football ground of Sanchaung quarter to show the Japanese propaganda and documentary films only.
At the beginning of the Japanese Regime, the film shows were held at downtown Yangon only during the months from May to November 1942. As the Allied bombers intensified, the film shows were shifted to Bahan and Kandawgyi areas where the silent movies were shown intermittently among the Myanmar Pyazats at recently built thatch-roofed cinema halls. The Myanmar movie artists took part in the performance of Pyazats for their livelihood.
The Post War Era
When the Second World War came to an end in August 1945, the Myanmar movie industry did not come to life immediately. Meanwhile, the old Myanmar movies which were filmed before the war were shown again. The pyazat era which began in the Japanese Regime had become flourished not only at the Pyazats halls near Kandawgyi but also at the downtown cinema halls which were repaired to stage pyazats.
Star cinema hall on Phayre Street became Win Win Pyazat hall where Pyazats directed by Dagon Saya Tin, Bogalay Tint Aung, Kyuntaw Chit Maung and Pyaw taw set Than Nwe were staged. Kathay pyazat hall on the Canal Street staged pyazats in competition with Win Win Pyazat hall. Olympia Cinema hall which had shown only the Myanmar movies before the war was damaged heavily by the Allied bombings and left with bricks only. Thwin cinema hall which was also damaged during the war was repaired and restored to its original status to show the British Burma Company’s movies.
Along the Sule Pagoda Road, the name changing process took place at some of the movie theatres. Odeon, Dagon Cinema, and Elite became Ritz, Regent and Carlton movie theatres respectively. However, Globe, Palladium and Royal movie theatres have remained intact. Ritz and Geiti, Shar Hall, Jamar near Pansodan and Joti on the Anawrahta Road showed the India movies.
There stood Zaw Cinema hall in Pazundaung quarter, Shwe Taing Thiri movie theatre which was built in 1946 at Kyeemyindaing quarter, west Yangon which showed the old American, English and Myanmar movies.
In the year 1953 and 1954, the movie theatres in the vicinity of Myaynigone had sprung up one after another. Sun Thiri and Yatanapon were the earliest movie theatres ever built at Myaynigone roundabout and Wizaya near the Resistance Park (Kuppali Kwet Thit at that time) had also appeared one by one. Shweman movie theatre was built on the vacant plot which was formerly a pond. The pond was piled on with earth to build the movie theatre Shweman.
At that time the Myanmar silent movies had become almost disappeared as the Myanmar talkie movies became popular, the new movie theatres appeared in the Yangon’s suburbs to show the Myanmar talkie movies. They are Mya Nan Theingi on the Yangon-Insein Road near the Kamaryut railway station, Mayosan and Shwe Baho on the Majit Road (now Thamain Bayan Road), the Tamwe area.
In the year 1955, the new era of foreign movies had begun when the black and white film became out-dated, and the Technicolor, 4-track Stereophonic sound and Vista-vision movies became popular in the country. At this juncture to show the Cinemascope and Vista-vision films in place of 35mm films, the normal-sized screen had to be renovated as widescreen.
As the Myanmar talkie movies were screened almost everywhere in the country, the music troupes disappeared from the movie theatres where the silent movies had been screened.
The new movie theatres like Shwegon, Myoma, and Sudupan were constructed on the vacant plot where Olympia cinema hall was damaged heavily during the War. Lighthouse and Nay Pyi Taw were new movie theatres built on the Sule Pagoda Road near the Kyauktada Police Station. Sanpya cinema hall was built at the corner of Canal (now Anawrahta Road) and Phongyi Streets in Lanmadaw area.
In the year 1960, a rich man U Kyauk Sein built a large and modernized Thamada Cinema hall at the corner of Signal Pagoda Road (now Alan Pya Phaya Road) and York Road (now Yaw Min Gyi Street). It includes a hotel, restaurant, reception hall and movie theatre with a large screen for 70 mm films. Meanwhile, old Palladium movie theatre was renovated and modernized with a new name “new Palladium” on the Sule Pagoda Road. It was inaugurated with William Wyler’s 1959 Academy awarded film “Ben Hur”.
It is the actual situation of the movie theatres at downtown Yangon and its suburbs from the year the Myanmar movie emerged and came into prominence up to the year 1960.
In those days all the movie theatres were owned by private individuals. Immediately after the nationalization of the privately owned movie theatres took place all over the country, all the alien names of the movie theatres especially in English and Indian were changed to Myanmar names. Thus, Globe, New Palladium, Ritz, Excelsior, Carlton, Royal, Joti, Lighthouse, and Cathey became Gon, Pa Pa Win, Ye Yint, Waziyar, Yuzana, Taw Win, Thiha, Shay Saung, and Kay Thwe respectively.
Once famous among movie fans Gon (Globe) and Pa Pa Win (New Palladium) were razed to the ground and in place of them mushroomed the Shangri-La’s Traders Hotel during the military government. The government demolished many movie theatres leaving Thamada, Waziyar, Thwin, Shay Saung and Nay Pyi Taw intact.