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State’s first cinema in ruins
- Sri Sitaram Vilas Talkies fails to rise after super-cyclone blow

Berhampur, Feb. 18: The first ever cinema of the state, established 84 years ago is in ruins. The 1999 super-cyclone further devastated the structure.

A.B. Chetty founded the Sri Sitaram Vilas Talkies (SSVT) in 1927. Ganjam was a part of Madras Presidency then, sources said. “SSVT screened India’s first silent film Raja Harishchandra made by Dada Saheb Phalke. The first talkie Alam Ara directed by Ardeshir Irani also was screened.

The theatre then had a thatched roof and also was a regular venue for staging Telugu dramas,” 75-year-old Subramanyam, a descendant of the Chetty family, said.

The first Oriya film Sita Bibaha, produced by Mohan Sunder Deb Goswami, came in 1934, seven years after SSVT opened. At that time, Subramanyam said, the hall was divided into two parts — in front, people sat on the sand and there were some chairs places in the rear. Floor class was generally meant for the common viewers and the people from the upper strata of the society occupied the chairs. Some British merchants who visited the nearby Gopalpur on various trips, often came to SSVT to experience Indian films. Many dignitaries including former President of India V.V. Giri, who belonged to Berhampur, have visited the theatre.

“A commentator was entrusted with the job to give running commentary on the scenes of the silent movies screened during those days. He used to sit near the screen and explain the viewers in a dramatic style. At that time Siva Rao was famous for his ardent style and was regularly gave running commentary in Telugu. Hindi, Telugu and Oriya films were screened in SSVT in later years. Though the viewers to SSVT were predominantly Telugu speaking, Oriya films were screened as the Orissa Govt. made it mandatory to screen Oriya films at least for 90 days in a year,” he said.

“The hall was modernised over the years. The old projector was replaced by a 35mm machine from London. The thatched roof was replaced by a concrete one. The sitting capacity of the hall was reduced from 1,000 to 600 to provide more comfort to the viewers and also to compete with other competitors before it was closed in 1999,” said Subramanyam.

Former All India Radio Sambalpur director, Madhusudan Panigrahi (87),said he, along with his friends, used to visit SSVT frequently in the 1940s. “During those days it was a place of modern-day entertainment,” he recalled.

“The devastation of the super cyclone completely ruined the talkies and forced it to shut down in October 1999,” said 52-year-old Trinath Rao, another descendant of the Chettys.

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