Monday, November 9, 2009

The Prakhanong Rama - Bangkok, Thailand

A corner of the Prakhanong Rama's street-side marquee peeks out from behind a bus, as passengers aboard wait for traffic to move.

If you're headed southeast on Sukhumvit Road, Soi 71 marks the beginning, roughly, of the Prakhanong part of town. Like most of Bangkok, snarled traffic plagues Prakhanong during the majority of waking hours. Clean air - since it's been befouled by both car exhaust and engine noise - is a scarce commodity down here. But in the recent past, the area immediately around Sukhumvit Soi 71 used to provide relief from the dystopia of Bangkok in the form of five stand-alone movie theaters operating practically on top of each other. Besides the still functioning Asia Rama, however, only one other remains. Located within the bustling confines of Prakhanong Market stands the Prakhanong Rama.

The neon sign above the marquee says "Showing Today"

The Prakhanong Rama had street-side marquees and entrances into Prakhanong market on both Sukhumvit Road and Soi 71. Above is the Soi 71 entrance. Below, Sukhumvit.

According to vendors in the Prakhanong Market, the theater closed down just five or six years ago, leaving an empty void in the center of this neighborhood dry-goods bazaar. A woman selling clothes at the market recalled that the owner of the Prakhanong Rama also owned the Prakhanong Theater, which was located around the corner on Sukhumvit Road and which by one account was the largest theater ever in Thailand, with a seating capacity of over three thousand. It has since been replaced by a condo tower. The clothes seller counted on her fingers all the theaters which used to be in the immediate vicinity: "there was the Phrakhanong Rama and the Prakhanong Theater, the London Theater, the Asia Rama and a fifth one which I can't remember the name of."

A man saunters past the front of the vacant Prakhanong Rama

Theater facade

Mr. Montri with his shoes.

Muscle-bound Mr. Montri, who owns a second-hand shoe store in the Prakahanong Market, just next to the derelict theater, claims that the old movie mecca opened over forty years ago. The native of Sukhothai province has been hawking footware in the long shadow of the Prakhanong Rama for over thirty years now. Our conversation, however, soon turned to the more pressing issue of weight lifting, which he had apparently just finished off a session of.

Mr. Montri poses in front of the Prakhanong Rama

"I'm 65 years old and have been pumping iron ever since high-school," remarked Mr. Montri, pectorals flush with blood. "When I feel blue or a customer gets on my nerves, 25 minutes with the cold, hard steel of a bar-bell and all my demons are gone. Some people, you know, use drugs or alcohol to get the same feeling I get from working out."

I agreed with Mr. Montri about the psychological benefits of lifting weights, adding that for myself, another favorite way to induce a mental high comes from watching quality films projected onto the big screen. Lamentably, that can no longer be done at the Prakhanong Rama without risking arrest.

Side view of the outer lobby

In a neighborhood once brimming with movie theaters, the Asia Rama is the lone survivor that still shows films. All the others have either closed up or been razed altogether; quickly fading memories in a fast-changing section of Bangkok. A number of high-profile construction projects are going on in the area, including one going up on land which once supported a cinema and throngs of movie-goers. I imagine the Prakhanong Rama won't be far behind, as the older low-rise buildings succumb to modern tastes and the march of capital. The scent of gentrification is in the air!

2 comments:

  1. There is a record store in the outer lobby pictured above. There's activity going on that made me wonder if there was something going on inside.

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