Most writers on heritage have lamented about the demolition of the old theatres of the city and among those most lamented about is the Minerva on Davidson Street, George Town. Columns have been written about its first floor location above a godown and its screening of English movies, in early days largely to a European clientele, later moving on to upmarket Indians.
“How do you know it has been demolished?” asked Stephen Hughes, the noted film historian, with a twinkle in his eyes. We were both in a cycle rickshaw one Sunday morning last year in June, travelling down George Town searching for the possible location of Mrs Klugg’s bioscope, the first theatre in the city. (Stephen later found it and wrote a detailed article on it for The Hindu).
“Because that is what has been written,” I replied. Now Stephen is a person who always doubts the written word and sure enough he was proved correct. “What is that then?” he asked pointing to a cinema poster of an MGR rerun which proclaimed that it was being screened at the Batcha Theatre (Minerva). “So that is what it is,” said Stephen. “It is now run under a different name”.
We immediately got the rickshaw to take us to Davidson Street and sure enough there was Batcha (Minerva). The godown on the ground floor was still in operation with its Madras terrace roof and Stephen, in his near perfect Tamil enthralled the labourers there with his account of the theatre and its history. We then went to the first floor.
The owner of the Minerva is a Mr Batcha who has since changed the theatre’s name (how would it have been if he had become Mr Minerva instead?). We had tea with him, walked around the large open terrace and also took a look inside the single level theatre. It is still running and screening movies. Mr Batcha looks happy and so hopefully this piece of heritage will survive.