Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Beyin (King) Cinema - Yangon, Myanmar

Moving eastwards along Bogyoke Aung San Road, the next gem in the Cinema Row sextet is the verdant Beyin Cinema, also known as the King. Local recollectors seemed to think that the King, despite its more contemporary looks, is actually older than the Waziya Cinema next door. With confirmation pending, I'll resort to conjecture and say this: it is the elder of the two, but at some point it got a makeover and now looks the younger.

Besides being green, the King Cinema stands out among the denizens of Cinema Row for being the only one that does not face on to Bogyoke Aung San Road. It's front entrance, as depicted in the above photo, faces east onto 35th Street. The point being, you know that you're turning a corner when you go to the King. *Ba-dum ching*

Beyin, in some funky 3D Burmese cut-out letters bolted to the top of the theater.


Vendors prepare their wares in front of the King Cinema's 35th Street entrance.

Welcome to the King

Billboards and checker boards.

Filmfair at the King seemed to be exclusively Indian. During most of my Yangon stay, the movie Billu Barber held top billing there. Bollywood, ever prolific in its annual output, supplies Myanmar movie theaters with a regular stream of silver screen entertainment, amounting to the second most widely exhibited national cinema in the country after domestic productions. Curiously, all imported movies - Bollywood, Hollywood or otherwise - are prohibited from being dubbed into Burmese or given Burmese subtitles. For Myanmar's movie-going public this can be a bit of a drag. Plot lines can be lost and dialogue painfully dull for those without an ear for the movie's language of origin. The three English language films I watched were notable for the casual chatter that broke out among spectators once the on-screen action turned to dialogue. It was like a license to speak, a clear indication that most viewers either didn't understand the English soundtrack, or weren't interested in trying to follow along. But the lack of translation is not without reason.

The authorities realize that if foreign imports were given the Burmese treatment then home grown productions would suffer at the box-office. Producers would see smaller returns on their investments and the local industry would wither in the face of more Burmese-friendly imports. Instead, the domestic fair is bolstered by a protectionist policy aimed at funneling movie-goers in its direction, while avoiding the need to increase production costs. This works against local movie fans, in a total sense. For one, they can't fully follow the imported stuff without foreign language ability. More critically, however, if local films were made with a mind to compete on an equal basis with the technically more proficient films of India or the US the likely result would be a raised bar across the field. Local producers would be forced to dole out more money, attracting a wider range of domestic talent, and presumably resulting in higher quality films. Theaters would be full based on the merits of the movie, not just because of the familiar language. But by all accounts, movie making in Myanmar is a murky process to begin with. Producers aim not for quality, but for quantity on as little investment as possible. In the end, the deprivation really shows!

DVD stalls line Bogyoke Aung San Road along the outside wall of the King Cinema, adding to the movie mania of Cinema Row. But looking past that, the billboard on the sidewalk serves a dual purpose: an advertisement for the current movie and a shield for the theater's diesel generator. All theaters in Myanmar have their own generators outside in case the local electricity supply gets shut off - a regular occurrence.

I would have liked to bring you a more dynamic series of shots of the Beyin/King Cinema. It's an interesting place. But management was not so thrilled to have a camera man poking around the premises. Interior shots were not allowed at all. Shooting the exterior was done sporadically and surreptitiously, as some vendors working the theater's perimeter were weary about having their goods committed to film.


  1. Why anyone would paint their movie theater this pus-colored shade or green is beyond me. But I guess there is no point in quarreling about taste.

  2. nobody remembers the founder of this cinema, it was my Grand Father, Late Ramdeoji Ladsaria, and we lost control after nationalization by Burma's Military Government took over.

    Ashok Ladsaria.