The Bollywood craze in Geylang between the ‘50s and ‘60s kept suburban cinemas packed. At these open-air cinemas, ten-cent cinemas and decent fan-cooled theatres, Hindustani movies brought in the crowds in droves to the Taj, Garrick and Queen’s in Geylang.
Mr Tamby bin Osman who worked in various cinemas during that era recounted this early morning scene in Geylang whenever Garrick showed Hindustani films:
The pawn shops had long queues with ladies trading their jewellery and sarongs for cash to pay for the tickets. The drama over good versus bad worked up the crowd so much that many Malay aunties among them forgot that it was only fiction!
A very young Shaik Kadir once sat next to a makcik in Garrick when Dev Anand was busy fighting off a villain:
[I remember] all the cursing coming from the seat beside as the fight scene moved from a mountaintop to a ship’s deck! The loud cheers at Dev Anand’s eventual triumph didn’t bother anyone, unlike the sound of a ringtone now that gets everyone worked up.
The Garrick at the entrance of Onan Road ran for four decades, from the 1920s until 1965, when it became Galaxy, boasted to be the first luxury cinema to exclusively show first-run Malay, Indian and Egyptian films. Tickets were priced in 50 cent increments, the cheapest being the front wooden seats at 50 cents. The Taj, next to the old Geylang Serai Market, later became Singapura (1954–1971).
Dick Yip, a former patron of Queen’s, remembered watching Malay horror movies on traditional legends like the Pontianak, Jerangkung and Orang Minyak with his pals during his childhood:
On the way home after such movies, we would choose to pass by the cemetery just to torture ourselves!
Photos courtesy of the National Archives, Singapore.
For a detailed discussion of the developmental stages of Singapore Cinema, please see this page maintained by Dr Kevin Peter Blackburn.
What was the first movie you’ve seen and what was the experience in those days? Share your memories at Singapore Memory and help others recreate the experience!
Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman
National Library (Heritage)