If the city of Vizag is to be identified using a place in it, neither Andhra University nor Simhachalam nor even Ramakrishna beach fits the bill. Instead, a cine theatre rises to the occasion-the iconic ‘Jagadamba theatre’.
Mr. Vegi Bhadrachalam – popularly known as Rambabu, a prosperous wholesale merchant of onions and potatoes in Vizag, and owner of Ramakrishna movie theatre – went to Madras, saw Safire theatre in all its magnificence, and then conquered the hearts of English movie fans of Vizag by building his dream project in 1970. The fact that he too was a passionate fan of English movies, just added fuel to that fire.
Things moved swiftly from Safire-episode onwards. He acquired 4200 sq. yards of land and based on the design provided by Mr KN Srinivasan, one of the finest architects from Madras, Rambabu personally supervised the construction on a 24×7 time-scale. The grand building, with an exotic spiral ramp leading to its balcony, was inaugurated on 27-10-1970 by JV Narasinga Rao, the then Deputy Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. The theatre, named after Rambabu’s mother, with 1,200 seats along with its sparkling silver screen opened with “Where Eagles Dare” in 70 mm format with stereophonic sound effects. In hindsight, the movie choice was quite apt, for Rambabu, too dared where others did not. And the rest is history… with people flocking in hordes from all parts of north-Andhra as it offered an almost heavenly experience which was unheard of till then. It forever changed the landscape of that area; not only had the name of that area changed eternally to “Jagadamba Junction/Center” from its earlier “Yellammathota Junction”, but also that it became synonymous with Vizag. Many Telugu movie songs/scripts have ‘Jagadamba’ as an iconic word in their lyrics/dialogues.
Mr. Jagadish Kumar –Ram Babu’s son – fondly reminisces that Jagadamba is one of the few theatres across the world to be built according to the stringent specifications set by Mr Todd A.O. – the inventor of 70 mm format. They further nurtured it with upgrades in sound and projection systems and additions, viz., new theatres Sarada, Ramadevi, and video-games hall in the same complex – making it the first multiplex theatre complex in Vizag.
Except for an occasional Indian movie like the blockbuster Sholay, until just a few years ago, Jagadamba screened only Hollywood movies. Old-timers fondly remember revelling in wonderful movies of Biblical saga (Ben Hur, Ten Commandments), Wars (Where Eagles Dare, Guns of Navarone), Westerns (Mackenna’s Gold), Thrillers (Indiana Jones trilogy). The fact that ‘Jurassic Park’ ran for almost 10 weeks, and ‘Aliens’ for 50 days at a stretch speaks volumes about the symbiotic relationship between Jagadamba, Hollywood, and Vizag moviegoers. Of late, giving in to popular demand and the fact that Indian movies too are now being made with good technical values, if not superior story content, Indian movies share the screen with Hollywood blockbusters. Still, when it comes to spectacular screening, all head-honchos of Hollywood distributors from Mumbai corporate offices make their calls to Jagadamba theatre on regular basis.