Friday, September 3, 2010

The Nay Pyi Daw Cinema - Yangon, Myanmar

This along with the two posts to follow marks the end of my material for Yangon (though there's still much to come from other parts of the country). In saving these three for city's grand finale, I hope to close this chapter on a high note, even if the photos themselves are not exactly the most stellar of all time. It was no easy task getting what I got. These theaters, you see, are leased out by the Mingalar Group, Myanmar's largest movie theater operator, which very inconveniently has a zero tolerance policy towards the photographing of their venues. My each and every attempt to set up some nice shots was thwarted by Mingalar's relentless, hawk-eyed security guards, who deserve pay raises for their due diligence. Only by resorting to hit and run guerrilla photography was I able to get anything at all - a sullen tactic considering the creme de la creme status of these colorful houses of film.

The Nay Pyi Daw in streetscape

At roughly four-hundred seats, the Nay Pyi Daw Cinema is the smallest of Mingalar's Sule Pagoda Road sanctuaries, but no less sanctimonious than the others. A facade the likes of which I've never seen attached to a cinema hall attracts the eye and whets the appetite of those who cross its path. 1950's architectural indulgence I'd call it, but maybe the technical term is "brutalism," or some other sub-category of modern architecture. Correct terminology notwithstanding, it is a special building, with pastel coloring and a diamonds-within-squares patterning on the facade. One might almost expect to find something even better than film taking place inside.

The Nay Pyi Daw Cinema on Sule Pagoda Road: one of the cities premiere entertainment destinations. On the ground level there's an adjoining business called Cafe Aroma, one of the few places in town serving fresh brewed coffee.

Both of the movies I saw at the Nay Pyi Daw, Iron Man 2 and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, drew sell-out crowds. Fast-talking ticket scalpers did their dealings just off theater grounds, selling tickets at inflated prices to those arriving minutes before show time. The mood was electric as hordes of revelers massed at the gates. The chatter, the excitement, the anticipation of escape into a temporary realm of the artificial was unrivaled. This was exactly what I had come to document. The stand-alone theater in all its living glory. Phantasmagoria in the great dictatorship. Hollywood hi-jinks in the gilded cesspool. If only the hounds were tethered, I would have walked away with a treasure trove of photos.

You can imagine the dismay I felt at being banned from taking pictures. I was practically banging my head against a brick pagoda with frustration. Cut out my liver and feed it to the street dogs, I simmered inwardly, but don't deny me the shoot! Don't make me into a criminal! Ultimately this is for you, Mingalar, and for the country of Myanmar as a whole. But there was no reasoning with them. As a result, I can't show you what it looks like in the most vibrant movie theaters in Southeast Asia. All the more reason, then, for you to get up and go see for yourself.

Nay Pyi Daw, like the name of the capital city itself, means "capital."

Towards the end of my stay in the country I found out why Mingalar has such a strict policy against taking pictures. It has to do with larger political/economic considerations, the details of which I'll let you figure out for yourselves.


  1. Brutalism is a good name for the regime's governing philosophy, not for this architectural style. The theater's facade is 50's kitsch.