Monday, July 19, 2010

The Su Htoo Pan Cinema - Yangon, Myanmar

When Burmese writer/political critic Ludu U Hla was locked away in the Rangoon Central Jail back in the 1950's, for the heinous crime of authoring seditious literature, he made the most of his prison sentence by conducting interviews among his fellow inmates. The result was "The Caged Ones" - a collection of narratives detailing the inmates' road to incarceration. It's a simple read, but no less gripping for its casual accounts of how the young and vulnerable can turn illicitous given bleak circumstances or events.

Law breaking, however, wasn't the only common denominator linking these young misfortunates. In just about every missive in the book, the respective inmate mentions a relationship he had to Yangon's cinemas before being locked up, giving the impression that city's movie halls were magnets for the criminally inclined. In the "The Orphan," for instance, the young protagonist admits to dropping out of school and then "stealing a train ride to Rangoon, where I eked out a living by filching things from shops and people." Having no permanent residence "I would sleep where ever I could find shelter, which was usually near the cinema halls."

Another story has the prisoner recalling "carefree afternoons and evenings idling around the cinema halls, looking at the various posters. When the lights were turned off after the last show we crept into the dark corners to sleep."

Maybe more vagrant than down right criminal, the connections between the cinema halls and the jailed are nonetheless ubiquitous throughout the book.

Busy Cinema Row on Bogyoke Aung San Road...

...home to the criminally vagrant?

Some parts of Cinema Row haven't changes much since Ludu U Hla's days, apparently. The Su Htoo Pan Cinema very well may have been one of the cinemas described in "The Caged Ones." In any case, loafers warmly welcomed.

Su Htoo Pan translates to "The Highest Wish."


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