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WHEN the curtains first parted in Coliseum Theatre in 1920 on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur, Hollywood wouldn’t have fathomed that 14,000km away, on the other side of the world, the Malaysian public would get to watch a movie for the first time on the silver screen. Nearly 100 years later, even after having survived the Japanese occupation in the 1940s, the cinema stands tall as the beacon of the traditional movie-going experience in Malaysia, being the first theatre in the country.

Hands have naturally changed over the years, and today, Lotus 5 Star Cinemas (who took the lease from owners, the Chua family) screens Tamil and Hindi movies, and English and Malay blockbusters, too, at Coliseum Lotus 5 Star, which was officially launched in March with then Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim gracing the special occasion.

Turning the aging, 900-seat theatre into a fully modern, full-spec two-hall cineplex wasn’t quite just dusting off the cobwebs and slapping on a new coat of paint. In fact, the building – predictably – has been screaming for a new lease of life for a while now.

“The renovation was extensive. Digital projectors were added and the sound system was upgraded, befitting a modern-day cinema,” revealed Lotus 5 Star Cinemas director Garuna Murthee during a recent interview, intimating that RM3mil was pumped into the project.

Also present was project manager Mohd Shah Abdul Aziz, who shared that in the attempt to turn the archaic facility into a state-of-the-art one, no corners were cut. “We changed the film projector to hard disk based ones. And the sound system is now powered by the industry standard Dolby Digital CP 750 cinema sound processor,” he informed, adding that the cinema’s bulky, two-way speakers were replaced with smaller, more efficient full range JBL speakers.

Remember how much of a nuisance it used to be watching movies in those old cinemas – when someone tall sat in front of you, the movie-going experience was ruined? Coliseum now features semi stadium seating, effectively consigning such rotten circumstances to the past.

Shah also shared that the chairs were all replaced with new ones, and more space has been allocated between the rows of seats, so moving in and out doesn’t involve stepping on the toes of fellow cinema-goers. “We had to replace the toilets, too. And significant additions include the concession store and the box office,” he added. Buying the obligatory kuaci from the hawker outside is a thing of the past. Likewise, getting hand-written tickets for your money.

Coliseum’s new facelift also includes Roman Empire-inspired motifs like horses, chariots and columns. “We’ve sacrificed 300 seats from the old layout for the comfort of our patrons. People know they get what they pay for, so the movie-going experience is much more pleasant,” Shah offered.

Investing in Coliseum was virtually a no-brainer for Lotus 5 Star, and Garuna confirmed that it was the cinema’s history that was the clincher. “It’s the oldest cinema in the country … everyone knows it. And it’s located very strategically and looks like a classic cinema, too,” Garuna said, intimating that Lotus 5 Star has a 10-year lease, which most likely would be extended upon expiration.

Of course, a cinema is worth its salt only if the movies played there are any good. “Our focus will be blockbuster movies, preferably those with good moral values,” said Garuna, who watched his first movie – the Sivaji Ganesan vehicle Babu – at Coliseum in the late 1970s.

While Lotus 5 Star may not have the liberty to do as it pleases with Coliseum, the Chua family’s only request was to maintain the building’s name. “It’s a heritage building, after all, so there’s not much we can do anyway. Even the colour scheme of the building had to be approved by City Hall (Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur),” said Garuna.

The cinema will also be contributing to the growth of local productions, what with the screening of Malay movies, a joint initiative between Finas and the cinema. And the halls are also available for private events. “We also rent the space. The stage, which was part of the original cinema, is still there in the lower hall, so live events can be held,” he enthused.

Cinema takings aren’t what they used to be these days. Gone are the days when a 900-seater could rake in RM300,000 for a Kamal Hassan or Rajinikanth movie, but premium prices – which come with a great degree of viewer comfort – ensure that current earnings aren’t too far off.

Coliseum is seven years shy of celebrating its 100th anniversary. And given the level of conservation the cinema has been accorded, don’t be surprised to see it around for another century.

Source : TheStar