Indian Influences in The Development of The Cinema Industry in Trinidad And Tobago


Various optical enhancing instruments and gadgets such as optical toys, ‘magic lanterns’, and visual tricks have existed for centuries. Many entrepreneurs, scientists and inventors have observed the visual phenomena that is produced when a series of individuals still pictures are set in motion. This illusion of movement, a concept often described as Persistence of Vision was the first step in the development of the cinema. Numerous technologies, optical toys mechanical inventions and simple gadgets related to with this concept of ‘motion and vision’ were the precursors to the birth of the Motion Picture Industry generally referred to as the Cinema Industry.

 This chapter looks the Indian influence in the development of the cinema industry in Trinidad and Tobago and focuses on whether the importation of Indian movies served as a catalyst for expansion of cinemas locally.

Historical Perspective

The introduction of Indian movies to Trinidad in 1935 spurred the local cinema industry to greater heights and encouraged viewership from the East Indian population, a segment of the local population that had hitherto paid scant attention to cinema from its inception here.

Moving pictures or ‘film’ arrived in Trinidad on Thursday February 15, 1900 when Professor R. Montval held the first public showing of film in Trinidad[1]. This historic showing of (silent) moving pictures in Trinidad was held at the Princes Building in Port of Spain and captured by an advertisement in the Mirror Newspaper of the same date in which “The Man in the Moon” and “The Haunted Castle” was advertised along with other shorts as the “moving motion pictures” shown on that date.[2] This was a historic moment for Trinidad, as it marked the entry of cinema into this country. However, internationally, the showing of moving motion pictures first started in 1895 when the Lumiere Brothers (Auguste [1862-1954] and Louis [1864-1948]) of France, having perfected their cinematograph, had  a successful first run in Paris. They demonstrated their new moving motion picture technology in 1896 in the United States of America, London, and India, showing for the first time moving images on a screen viewed by the public in groups. They charged a fee to the public for viewing and thus became the first group to earn income from this art form.  This heralded the birth of modern cinema.

During this early period of film screenings in Trinidad, most shows were held in a variety of available indoor and outdoor locations. The Princes Building in Port of Spain was the preferred venue, as it was then the centre for practically all the Performing Arts. Film exhibitioners therefore found difficulty in making bookings for their shows.

Moving motion pictures were considered a novelty at the time and they did not yet have a following of their own so in order to gain an audience they sometimes ‘piggybacked’ on the performances of other art forms at the venue. It was not uncommon therefore to see a few short films presented during intermission of a major operatic or theatrical production at the Prince’s Building.

By 1905, however, the local cinematograph industry had gained in status with the Ireland Brothers’ giving regular exhibitions at the Princes’ Building at the extremely high entrance fee of two shillings for front seats and one shilling for gallery seats. [3] 

First Cinema in Trinidad

As the new purpose built cinemas were being established in major countries of the world including the Caribbean, Trinidadians began to signal the need for a special building for these cinematic exhibitions.[4]  Discussions on this issue began in the public domain around 1905.[5] However, the first cinema in Trinidad, built by two foreigners, brothers Marcus and Reginald Davis, was opened with great fanfare on February 2, 1911 as the London Electric Theatre on French Street Woodbrook. .[6]  The national population at the time was 333,552 while the population in the city of Port-of-Spain was 59,796.[7]

These early films were silent films and musicians appeared beside the screen playing musical interludes while the film was shown. Lanky Belasco, a popular local musician of the time, played accompanying music at the cinema while nine short films were shown.[8] Patrons paid prices ranging from eight cents to twenty-four cents each depending on their choice of seats.[9]

As film popularity grew and the demand for new cinema houses began to take root, the St Ann’s Hall at Oxford Street in Port-of-Spain was leased and reopened as the New City Cinema in 1915 with admission prices ranging from 12 cents for pit to 24 cents for balcony.[10] Matinee prices were considerably lower with as little as two cents for seats in pit[11].  This two cents admission price was a far cry from the two shillings paid just a few years earlier at the Princes’ Building and was and appealed to the wider masses, since hitherto only the wealthy could have afforded the exorbitant prices that were charged at the Princes’ Building.

Cinema in San Fernando

As the fledgling local cinema industry expanded, the Palace Cinema, built by Mc Dougal, was opened in San Fernando in 1915, making it the first cinema established outside of Port of Spain. This cinema started by entertaining its patrons on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays but went on to eventually operate full time. In Port of Spain, meanwhile, The New City Cinema was closed and by January 1916, Lanky Belasco left the London Electric Theatre and in association with Miss Doris Legge, went on to open yet another Port of Spain cinema outlet, The Olympic Electric Theatre at Belmont. [12]

 Just about that time, a powerful American entrepreneur, George Rosenthal, entered the local cinema world. He immediately leased the closed St Ann’s Hall and reopened it “The City Cinema”. Rosenthal made a difference in the cinema offerings to the public as he introduced serial thrillers to his new cinema. This was an instant hit.[13]  In this way Rosenthal was able to keep his audience coming back to his cinema repeatedly and thus exerted a tremendous influence on other cinema operators in the menu they presented for public viewing. However, the Electric Central Theatre was opened in 1919 in Port of Spain. As the clamor grew for other cinemas outside the city to cater to the non-city crowd, by the 1920s the Palladium was opened in Tunapuna, the St. Madeline cinema in Princes Town was in place and the Princes Theatre was opened in Arima. In addition two other rural cinemas were also opened in that decade as Teelucksingh opened the Couva Electric Theatre in Couva (1916), while in Sangre Grande the Juteram family established the  Lycium cinema(1919).[14] Lycium later became the Apollo cinema under the same ownership.  

George Rosenthal, left the City Cinema over a dispute, and established what became Port of Spain’s first permanent Tent Cinema at the corner of Edward Street and Tragarete Road where his experience that he had earned at the City Cinema allowed him to reap attractive rewards in his new venture. He was so successful in this venture that he went on to construct a permanent (solid) cinema building in front of the tent cinema with the tent space becoming the ‘pit’ entrance to the cinema. This new establishment, the Empire Theatre, was opened on September 25, 1920 with 1200 seats.[15]. In 1921, a second cinema, The New Theatre, was opened in San Fernando and in 1924, the Gaiety Theatre was opened by Timothy Roodal  in the same city to accommodate the growing number of cinema fans in the southern part of the country .  Thus, the spread of the cinema outside of the city area of Port-of-Spain had begun in earnest.

In 1931, Rosenthal, merged with William Pettigrew Humphrey, a wealthy cinema entrepreneur, who owned a chain of cinemas in Guyana, but who was new to the Trinidad scene. This merger of resources between Guyana and Trinidad resulted in the formation of the British Colonial Film Exchange Company Ltd which became the largest distribution company in the Caribbean. This was big news for the local industry and was distinguished with  a front-page story in the Trinidad Guardian on Wednesday May 11, 1931[16]. This new company presently established the St James Theatre and the De Luxe Cinema, which were both opened in 1937.  The St. James Theatre was later sold to Teelucksingh and reopened as the Rialto in 1947.

The British Colonial Film Exchange Company Ltd was a big trendsetter and exerted tremendous influence on the future development of the cinema industry in Trinidad. At the Empire Theatre, it introduced the use of two projectors instead of one, which was the norm in the local cinema industry at the time. This eliminated the wait-time for patrons as the film reels were changed. Fans enjoyed a continuous sequence of film scenes and the lengthy, irritating delays associated with the changing of the reels, became a thing of the past. This exciting and costly advancement attracted many fans to this cinema. Slowly other cinema owners began to follow the trend set by the Empire Theatre, and twin projectors rapidly became the norm in the local cinema industry. However Humphrey, eventually bought out Rosenthal and thus became a leading figure in the local cinema industry.

Meanwhile the growing popularity of American films in Trinidad, during the late 1920s and early 1930s, forced American film companies to compete among themselves and with British and European companies to establish film distribution contracts in the Trinidad cinema circuit. Within this context, Metro Goldwyn- Mayer (MGM) sought to lease the Princes Building to show its films exclusively but Humphrey challenged it in court and won.The case had generated tremendous public interest in the 1930’s and Humphrey, having won the case, grew in stature not only in the eyes of the local film industry but also in the entire Performing Arts Industry because he had saved the Princes Building for the Performing Arts.  The Princes Building therefore continued as the premier venue for the Performing Arts while cinema houses sprang up throughout the country.

Although MGM had lost the case, they did not quite give up hope of finding an exclusive outlet for their films in Trinidad. They eventually teamed up with a young former indentured laborer from India, Meah Gokool [17] who built the largest cinema in the city at the time, the Metro Cinema, at a staggering cost of $150,000.00[18].  With the MGM symbol of the (roaring) lion as its calling card and a unique architectural design, this landmark city cinema opened on March 19, 1933, with a seating capacity for 1800 patrons.[19]   

Not long after its opening there was a dispute between Gokool and the American MGM company as Gokool held that he reserved the right to decide what films other than MGM’s were shown at his cinema. He felt  that Metro was the largest cinema in the island at the time and MGM’s films did not always bring out the largest crowd to the Metro. This Gokool saw  as a loss of revenue for his cinema. However, MGM demanded exclusive rights to the exhibition of its films at the Metro as per their contract with Gokool. The dispute between the two parties lingered for a while and as no amicable resolution was forthcoming, Gokool broke off relations with MGM and went on his own.  A Globe sign replaced MGM’s lion, signifying the new name of the cinema, The Globe Theatre. It was also an indication of the direction in which Gokool was taking his new cinema in that all film companies were welcomed at his cinema.  He became an independent cinema operator and thus was able to show the first Indian movie screened in Trinidad in 1935 since most of the other cinemas were committed to various film companies.

First All-Talking Movie in Trinidad

The first all talking sound movie, “Syncopation”,  was shown in Trinidad on January 15, 1930 at the Empire Theatre with an entrance fee of one dollar for house and balcony [20]while other cinemas on the average charged 6 cents for pit, 12 cents for house and 24 cents for balcony for silent films.  Another all-talking film, “Flight” was shown the next day at the same cinema with the same one dollar price tag. This marked the beginning of the “all-talking, sound” era for movies here in Trinidad and the onset of the decline of silent movies.

As is common with changes taking place, many people had reservations with respect to the talking films. Within that context several competitions were held  to gauge patrons’ preferences between silent films and talkie films. One such competition was run by the Empire Cinema in an advertisement on  January 29, 1930,which asked  patrons to vote for their preference of talkie films against silent films. Patrons were given a rebate of six pence on a ticket for the return of the ballot coupon to the cinema.[21] In that competition the talkies won in a resounding manner. There were large disparities in the admission fees for silent movies as against the talking sound films. Advertisements on the local newspapers, in order to differentiate between Silent Films, and the newer Talking Films used the term “All Talking” to differentiate the Talkies from the silent movies. In addition, cinemas continued to charge vastly different entrance fees for the talkies and  silent movies. For example, advertisements for a “Silent Picture” at  the Palace Theatre in San Fernando on the Trinidad Guardian put the prices for entrance to the show at four cents for pit, eight cents for house and twelve cents for balcony while the same newspaper on the same date in an advertisement for a movie at the Empire in Port of Spain referred to the film being shown as “All Talking” but with prices of 56 cents for balcony and 48 cents for box. [22]   This trend continued for a while, as silent movies were gradually phased out and the talkie films increasingly took over the cinema industry, both locally and internationally. Within 10 years of the introduction of synchronized sound to movies, silent films had almost disappeared from the scene.[23]

In the meantime MGM joined up with Humphrey and the British Colonial Film Exchange Company, and signed a major film distribution deal, the largest of its kind in the entire Caribbean at the time.  Through this new distribution deal, MGM gained access to all of Humphrey’s cinemas locally and internationally. This was probably a better deal for MGM because instead of the single cinema deal with Gokool and the Metro cinema, they now had a chain of cinemas in which to release their movies not only in Trinidad but also in the Caribbean.  This event was seen as such an important milestone in the development of cinema in Trinidad that it received front-page banner coverage on the Trinidad Guardian.  [24]

 After the grand entrance of Gokool into the local cinema arena in 1933, another very young and vibrant son of an Indian indentured immigrant, Timothy Roodal, who owned the Gaiety Cinema continued to make his mark in the local cinema industry. [25]  Roodal’s cinema empire expanded locally in 1934 with the establishment of the (Majestic) Roxy Cinema situated at a point between Woodbrook and St James. The Roxy, often referred to as the Cinema for Royalty, and by far the grandest of the then six cinemas in Port of Spain, was opened on October 13, 1934 with a total seating capacity of 900. Three years later, in May 1937, the Royal Cinema opened its doors in Port of Spain with a capacity of 1200 seats. Thus by 1937 Port of Spain boasted of eight cinemas with an approximate seating capacity of roughly seven thousand while for  the rest of the country, the cumulative seating capacity was less than two thousand all together. Timothy Roodal would by 1947 eventually buy out Humphrey and   become one of the most prominent names in local and Caribbean cinema. He became  the largest cinema proprietor in the Caribbean owning at one point in time some 50 cinemas in the Caribbean. Thirteen of those cinemas were located in Trinidad

The World War II also had its impact on the local cinema industry as many locals flocked to the cinemas to see the ‘News Shorts” that were shown before the advertised movies. For many patrons these ‘News Shorts’ were even more important and interesting than the films themselves as they showed actual shots of soldiers fighting on the war front. [26] It was a graphic representation of what was happening on the other side of the world. For the British, however, it was the Empire’s way of promoting their war efforts on the home front and many people flocked to the cinemas to see footage of the war in progress. The arrival of the American Base in Trinidad in the 1940’s, further served to improve on the number of cinemas operating in Trinidad. Lynn Macedo estimated that the American army and  navy were instrumental in the construction of some sixteen cinemas in Trinidad during the early forties , most of them located in areas within army limits that catered to the army.[27]  By 1946, however, the number of cinemas had swelled to 40 with the number increasing to 58 by 1948.  These figures were to further increase by 1962 to 71 cinemas. with the highest number of cinemas in the country recorded at 76 in 1971.  However, according to CSO figures it dropped to 74 in 1973 but went back up to 76 in 1976. [See Appendix 1]. [28] Thereafter, there was a steady decline in the number of cinemas operating in the country that today only four of those stand alone cinemas are to be found operational in the country. 

An analysis of Tables 1 and 2 ( See appendix 1) shows that during the two year period 1946 to 1948 a total of 18 new cinemas were opened in Trinidad bringing the total number of cinemas to 58 with an additional two more coming into being in 1949 so that in the three year period 46 to 49 some 20 cinemas were built.  The next notable increase in cinemas were witnessed between 1955 to 1958 when four new cinemas appeared. Between 1958 and 1959 eight new cinemas were established in Trinidad taking the figure to 70 cinemas by the end of that period.  Between 1970 and 1971 another four new cinemas were established, bringing the total number of cinemas in the country to 76. Many explanations have been  offered for the tremendous increase in the number of cinemas during the latter half of the 1940s and the early 1950s but as will be discussed later in this chapter this was perhaps due to the film distribution war between two local companies importing Indian movies into Trinidad.

Although Indian movies became popular in Trinidad after the 1940s, very few cinemas were dedicated exclusively to showing Indian movies all week long. The only exceptions were Palace in San Fernando and Sanz in San Juan. While there was an increase in the number of cinemas across the country during the period under consideration and many of these cinemas were located outside of the major city center, most of them showed Indian movies only on weekends, more so only on a Saturday or on special days during the week for example Windsor in Arima.  However, despite the fact that Indian movies were shown mainly on weekends at most cinemas the Indian movie crowd came out in relatively large numbers to see   them at the various cinemas. Dipchand Maharaj,a former school supervisor,90 years, recalls that in Sangre Grande in the 40s and 50s whenever an Indian movie was shown the cinema was always filled whereas this was not the case with English movies.[29] Ramesh Boodoo, former cinema proprietor, concurred with that view suggesting  that on many occasions it was the ‘weekend Indian movie crowd’ that provided financial viability for many cinema owners since the audience for mid- week ‘English’ movies was smaller.[30] Similar views were echoed by other interviewees such as Robindranath Maharaj (San Juan), Kowlessar Maharaj (Chaguanas),Ramanand Mathura ( Arouca) and Francis Chadee (Penal) in that for many cinemas the Indian movie was a major source of income.

The development of the cinema industry in Trinidad was definitely a most important factor in the evolution   entertainment for East Indians  in this country.  It provided an avenue of entertainment that catered mainly to the low-income groups such as agricultural and factory workers. Kenneth Lalla and Francis Chadee indicated that for the rural East Indian peasant, entertainment consisted of the occasional weddings, pujas and other such events for there was very little else in terms of entertainment to which they could turn to in the village.[31]The cinema was a most welcome development for these rural dwellers in areas such as California, Penal, Cedros, Rio Claro, Chaguanas and Sangre Grande. It was in many cases, the first, second and last resort in terms of entertainment for the individual or the family as a whole.  It provided an opportunity for socialization, for many people who would probably otherwise not have met under normal circumstances met at the cinema. In the purpose built cinema halls, very often, old acquaintances were renewed in the cinema sometimes before, after, or during the cinema show. The cinema was also the place where many young couples met away from the peering eyes of their parents and other persons.  It also provided an avenue to “get away from it all,” from friends, from family, from a nagging spouse or even from the workplace. In addition for the individual suffering from a bout of “tabanca” (blues), the cinema was the perfect place to while away the time especially if the movie such as Guide or Mai Chup Rahungi(………..) contained Tabanca songs. The cinema in this country obviously meant different things to diverse people but for almost 100 years it maintained its spot as the premier place of entertainment for much of the population but after 1935, with the introduction of Indian movies it became the favorite point of entertainment for large numbers of the East Indian community.

Major Contributors


The growth of the cinema industry in Trinidad occured in leaps and bounds. Significant ownership of cinemas was in the hands of a few East Indian executives among whom Meah Gokool, Timothy Roodal and Sarran Teelucksingh were the most prominent.

Gokool Meah

Haji Gokool Meah (1847–1939) was an industrialist and philanthropist. He was born in Kashmir, in what was then British India. He was originally named Modhoo. On January 25, 1853 he arrived in Trinidad aboard the Benares.  After his indentureship tenure he purchased a donkey cart and made a living hauling sugar cane to the factory at Usine Sainte Madeline. After a few years of this trade, he sold his cart and established a shop in Danglade Village on the road to San Fernando (now part of the Petrotrin oil refinery at Pointe-à-Pierre). From shopkeeping he moved on to cocoa cultivation, establishing one of the early cocoa plantations in the Diego Martin valley. From cocoa, he moved on to real estate, becoming one of the major landlords in Port of Spain. Having amassed a huge fortune he established himself as a cinema magnate, launching the Metro cinema in collaboration with MGM. He later split with them and renamed his cinema the Globe Cinema.[32] Meah Gokool in the 1930s, operated a string of five cinemas including the Olympic Theatre, The London, The Empire (San Fernando) and The Empire in Port of Spain. [33]   He also owned the three Globe cinemas in Port of Spain, San Juan and San Fernando.[34]

Timothy Roodal

Timothy Roodal (1884-1952) was another of the great cinema owners of the early days.  He was a cinema owner, politician and oil magnate. He was also at various times, Borough Councillor in San Fernando, Mayor of San Fernando, Member of the Legislative Council (1928 – 1950), Member of the Executive Council and held many other distinguished positions. He started in the cinema business with The Gaiety Cinema in San Fernando and later built the Roxy in Port of Spain. In 1947, he bought out the Humphrey Empire for one million dollars and was able to set up the Roodal Theatres Caribbean Company Limited, owning cinemas in Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados and other Caribbean countries. [35]  The Roodal chain of cinemas became the largest in the entire Caribbean and Timothy Roodal stood as a colossus in the realm of Trinidad and Caribbean cinema. He remained a gigantic figure in the cinema industry in Trinidad for many decades. The Trinidad cinemas he owned and operated included, Gaiety(San Fernando), Rivoli (Fyzabad ?), Radio City( San Fernando) , De Luxe, Royal, Empire and Roxy (Port of  Spain). When advertisements were printed in the cinema pages in the newspapers such as the Trinidad Guardian, an entire section was devoted to Roodal Theatres Caribbean and all his cinemas were listed in that cinema column as a standalone advertisement on the cinema page.  Among the cinemas that he owned the De Luxe, Royal, Roxy, Rio, Ritz, Rivoli, and Gaiety  were in Trinidad; the Metropole, Empire, London, Rialto and Capitol  were in Guyana and Empire and Olympic  were located in Barbados.[36]

Ramsarran Teelucksingh

Ramsarran Teelucksingh (nicknamed Sarran),(1889-1946) together with his nephew Henry Teelucksingh, eventually owned and operated a string of cinemas in Trinidad including the Astor Cinema (previously London Electric Theatre), Olympic Cinema and Rialto Cinema. Hefounded the Teelucksingh Theatres in 1943. [37] The Astor Cinema was renovated by  Teelucksingh Theatres Ltd and reopened as the Astor in 1947. In addition, he was at one time or the other the owner of the Princes Theatre in Arima, and Central Theatre in Princes Town and was involved in the film distribution business for a while. He is credited with having built the first cinema in Couva, the Couva Electric Theatre, which he established in 1916. [38] Teelucksingh also operated a tent cinema with which he roamed the countryside showing both English and Indian movies in rural communities.

Ranjit Kumar

Ranjit Kumar (1911-1982) was born in the Punjab in India and came to Trinidad in 1935 with the first Indian movie that was shown here, Bala Joban. It created an enormous sensation among  East Indian people in Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam and paved the way for the importation of Indian movies to these countries. His main base was  Trinidad during the period that he imported movies from India. He made frequent trips to Guyana and Surinam in order to promote his films there. Others also began importing films from India and Kumar began having difficulty booking cinemas for his shows. His main protagonist was William Pettigrew Humphrey to whom he eventually sold his film business in 1938. Kumar was also an engineer and worked with the government for a number of years. Eventually he entered politics and represented his various constituents at local and national levels. His major contribution remains the introduction of Indian movies to Trinidad and the concomitant resultant changes that took place in terms of East Indian culture in Trinidad and the national cultural milieu.(See Appendix ii for more on Ranjit Kumar)[39]

Tent Cinemas

The tent cinema or mobile cinema was an important component in the development of the cinema industry in Trinidad as it provided a sounding board for prospective entrepreneurs for investment purposes. It was the poor man’s cinema as it took the cinema to the countryside. For many people in the rural areas such as Cumuto, Penal, Cedros and Rio Claro these mobile cinemas provided the only source of entertainment for them, an entertainment to which they eagerly looked forward in those parts of the country.  Many people to whom this researcher spoke have expressed the view that those mobile cinemas were truly “God-sent”  for these rural areas, because other than weddings, and the occasional  religious ceremonies there was little else to look forward to in terms of entertainment in the early days up to the 1960s.  The mobile cinema filled that void and was eagerly embraced by everyone wherever it went. James Ramnath and Narsaloo Ramaya  contended  that many  rural East Indians were introduced to cinema through the tent cinema route and many would have seen their first Indian movie in a tent cinema.

Francis Chadee, an 81-year-old resident of Penal and former primary school principal , recalls the tent cinema in Penal in the 1930s. A sawmill house was used for the mobile cinema in those days and the diesel engine that was used to power up the sawmill was used to operate the projector for   showing  the movie.  He recalled that the place was always filled with excited people waiting to see the movie.  In comparison to the cost of a soft drink (sweet drink) in those days which was one cent, the entrance fee to the tent cinema in Penal was the princely sum of one penny according to  Chadee who indicated that many vendors gathered under an almond tree next to the sawmill and sold their products to patrons of the cinema.  The arrival of those films in the rural areas was something of a mini-festival in those days according to Chadee.

Narsaloo Ramaya also recalls the tent cinema in the village – Esperance Village – where he grew up and pointed out, that Teelucksingh’s Theatre was also involved in the mobile cinema business. Teelucksingh would set up his tent cinema some distance from the estates in his (Narsaloo’s) area and people took the regular bus to visit this tent Cinema.  Narsaloo Ramaya’s recollection of Teelucksingh’s tent cinema was confirmed by Kenneth Lalla who also spoke of the tent cinema being brought in the 1930s to the California area where he lived.  He recalls attending Teelucksingh’s tent cinema in the California area during that period.

 Ramjattan Ramdeowar, an 86-year-old resident of St. Augustine also recalls the tent cinema in the Curepe area in the 1930s. He spoke of seeing the Indian movie Vengeance Is Mine [Ver Ka Badla] in  1936  at a tent cinema in Curepe. He also indicated that he paid a penny to see the show in those days. Ver Ka Badla   was the second Indian movie shown in this country. [40]

The early tent cinemas were the precursor to many of the purpose built cinemas that followed later as entrepreneurs such as  Teelucksingh used the popularity of those tent cinemas as a gauge towards setting up the permanent cinemas in the areas where the tent cinemas drew the largest crowds. 

  In the early days of cinema in Trinidad, these enterprising mobile cinema unit operators usually bought outright the film that they would show and then went into the countryside to recoup their investments.  After screening a film for a while, and having recouped their investments in the film, they either sold their film to other mobile cinema operators or bartered it for other films.  This situation changed vastly in the 1930s with the introduction of Humphrey’s new outfit – the Colonial Film Exchange Company Ltd. The mobile cinema operators no longer purchased films outright but rented them for a flat fee from Humphrey for a period of time after which the film was returned to the company.  In this way, these mobile cinema entrepreneurs were able to take the cinema to the people throughout  the country rather than have the people come to the cinema. The requirements for setting up  a mobile tent cinema unit was an electric generator, a mobile movie projector, which was either rented or bought, a piece of white screen cloth, a tent, some chairs, a regular supply of films, and transportation.

The tent cinema was a major source of entertainment for country folk and continued well into the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The Indian High Commission maintained a film unit that showed  Indian documentaries throughout the country until the mid-1980s and the Hindu Jawaan Sangha ( Hindu Youth Organization) maintained a mobile film unit from 1976-1980 during which time, according to Harripersad Harrikissoon, the group completed at least eighty-one  “film shows” shows throughout the country.[41]

By the turn of the 1970s, the tent cinema had become obsolete and cinema fans had become accustomed to the regular cinema, videocassette recorders, and movies on television.  

Ownership of Cinemas

These three icons, all of East Indian descent, therefore, dominated the Trinidad cinema landscape for a number of years and have left an indelible mark on the cinema history of the country.  Roodal’s legacy remains unmatched even to this day. There are  also other major contributors to the development of the local cinema industry such as Juteram , Seetaram,Lucky Samaroo, ,Moonan,,Pulwarty,Ali, and Saith and Kubairsingh families    In addition it can safely be recognized that more than 90% of the cinemas in Trinidad and Tobago over the years were owned and operated by Indo Trinidadians (See appendix 2  which lists ownership of the cinemas in Trinidad and Tobago).[42] it is clear from the above that even before the advent of Indian movies in Trinidad in 1935 East Indians were already involved in the cinema industry

Film Distribution in Trinidad

After the introduction of films to Trinidad in 1900, individual film exhibitors were responsible for getting their own supplies through whatever sources available. By 1911 when the London Electric Theatre was established, a theatre agent was responsible for securing film footage for showing at the cinema. Tent operators, London Electric, and later, cinemas were known to purchase outright the films that they used in the cinemas or the roving tent cinemas.  By the 1920’s most of the offerings at local cinemas were American films. The same was also true in other Caribbean islands, India and other countries of the British Empire. English movie makers/distributors complained to the British Crown and after an investigation, the British Cinematograph Act was passed in 1926 stipulating that all cinemas in Britain and her colonies were to show a minimum of 5% of British movies rising to 25% by 1936.[43] The quota, while it worked for a period, encouraged a number of poor quality British productions that could not compete with the American movies because British producers, knowing that they had a market for their films, were not particular in producing high quality films.

Trinidad has been shaped and modeled along the lines of the colonial masters from Columbus to Abercrombie. Since the era of Abercrombie, the British colonial masters have tried to shape and influence the tastes and preferences of members of this outpost of the British Empire. Everyone, from slave to master, from indentured servant to free slaves to all else on the island have been taught to swear allegiance to the British Crown – be it King or Queen. One of the edicts of the British Empire, in terms of the cinema, was that the British Anthem “God save the King” be played before the showing of every film in all cinemas in the Empire.  Everyone from Governor to ex-slave, from immigrant Indians and ex-indentured servants to Ministers of Government, Christian and non-Christian, British and non-British subjects stood in homage  to the King or Queen of Britain  before each cinema show began in any part of the British Empire.  Trinidad was no exception, and it was common practice in this country that before any film was shown the British national anthem was played with its attendant decorum as demanded.  Both Kenneth Lalla and Francis Chadee, among others, affirm this fact.[44]

In 1933, the Empire Marketing Board was closed and its duties were taken over by the General Post Office. In 1939, the film unit of the General Post Office was taken over by the Ministry of Information, which later created the Colonial Film Unit.  This unit was later renamed the Crown Film Unit in 1940 and its main purpose was to promote the British War effort. The Unit also produced and distributed British Government films.[45]  Individual film studios in England and Wales were responsible for producing their own films and distributing them in the colonies. However, these British films, which were invariably dry, drab and unentertaining, did not catch the public’s imagination, as did the American films. The view has been expressed that the British movies which sought to promote high British life, was filled with too many scenes of Dukes and Lords, and “portrayed exasperating rubbish.”[46] In addition, British films were considered very passive and as seeking to stereotype the poor into acceptance of their subordinate status. 

  American films such as Casablanca(1942), Ben Hur (1925) and  Citizen Kane (1941)  were well packaged, had better story lines, were filled with more action, were related to the everyday life of the average person and dealt with topics that pleased the viewing public.  These films gave glimpses of freedom, hope, democracy and feelings of independence, which was the opposite of what was seen in the British films. In the American films, citizens could live out their fantasies of freedom and democracy for they saw in those American films their dreams and aspirations.  One view was that people in the colonies who saw themselves as oppressed preferred to see the American movies rather than the British movies.  The American studio agents too were vying with each other to get a foothold here in Trinidad, since, after the war (World War 1) America had emerged as the leading producer of films in the World and American films had become very popular in this part of the world.

The Studio system was in vogue in America and the major studios, in order to have greater control over the destiny of the films, and realize greater economies of scale, sought vertical integration, so that where before, aspects of production, distribution and exhibition were separately controlled, now, in the late 20’s these American film studios were vertically integrating the major aspects of film production, distribution and exhibition.  In addition, by the time American producers were ready to release their movies in the West Indies they had already recouped most of their initial costs by showing their films at home.  For this reason, they were able to cheaply sell or lease their films to overseas concerns including Trinidad.  These films were great productions , loaded with tremendous star power attraction and provided stiff competition to the British movies.

In the decade of the twenties five major film studios in America controlled the Motion Picture industry there, and by extension, throughout the English speaking World, which included areas wherever the British Empire ruled in countries such as India, Canada and the West Indies . They were known as the Big Five Studios: Warner Brothers Pictures, Paramount Pictures, RIO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures, Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Fox Film Corporation. They all had operations here in Trinidad.[47]

Others that came on the scene later included Columbia Pictures, Disney Studios (1923), Monogram, 20th Century Fox and Republic Pictures. These companies formed the backbone of the film distribution business in Trinidad, putting in the background the British film distributors and other European counterparts.  The aggressiveness of the American film companies to become the leaders in their field of operation here in Trinidad augured well for the local cinema fans who saw some of the best movies released in the country. In addition to the proliferation of American films here in Trinidad, distributors brought   some of the major American film stars for the opening of some of the blockbuster movies.  Among the stars who visited Trinidad for the opening of their movies included Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Errol Flynn and Bing Crosby.[48]

It is to be noted that the American studio companies sought exclusive contracts with certain cinemas in Trinidad for the exhibition of their films locally. An example of this was Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s association with  both Gokool Meah as mentioned earlier, and later with Humphreys Colonial Film Exchange Company Ltd.

As the Cinema industry in Trinidad gained popularity, going to the cinema soon became a popular pastime for many people, especially the well to do who could afford to pay the prices demanded at the cinema. American and European movies dominated the cinema landscape, but the American movies were the preferred fare for the majority of cinemagoers. The American film propagandists were much more aggressive than the British and so, by the 1930’s, had contracts with all local cinemas to show American films. It is estimated that by this time (1930’s) American films dominated in Trinidad, where more than 90% of films shown locally were produced in America.

In the early 1930’s the majority of cinemas were city based in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando and the prices were still high, most times too high for country folk to attend cinema. The majority of these cinemas catered to the ‘walk in’ crowd, city based dwellers or those on the periphery. While there are no official records of who went to the cinemas and the number of tickets sold both Ramaya and Ramnath contend that very few East Indians went to the cinema before 1935 which suggests that the majority of cinemagoers were whites, negroes and mullatos. The reasoning for this line of thought is that most of the East Indians who were ex-indentured servants and their descendants, lived on the sugar estates and after indentureship, they moved on to the settlement villages near or around the estates on which they had lived before. Most of these Indian settlements were out of the mainstream areas where the cinemas were located in Port of Spain and San Fernando, so that from its inception to the mid-1930s very few East Indians went to the Cinema.[49]

 In addition, the movies were in English, which was a foreign language to these immigrants, as most of them spoke mainly Hindi. Even up to the 1940’s, the 1946 census showed that some 60% of Indians were illiterate, in that they could not read nor write English[50]. To many Indians also, the cinema, the ‘English’ movies were seen as anathema to their religious and ethical  value systems. Most East Indian country folks did not show interest in the cinema in those days, because of the costs associated with it, transportation problems and the value systems that the Indians saw   associated with the movies. They were very thrifty. However, if the tent cinema came to the area they went to see the movie, because of the novelty associated with it but many did not  go back for the reasons mentioned above.[51] 

Some bicultural Indians, mainly Presbyterians, were acquainted with the cinema, as they had, in the majority, moved to the town areas after their conversion and education. [52] Narsaloo Ramaya concurs that ‘country’ East Indians did not frequent the cinema in any  appreciable  numbers  until after Bala Joban but that ‘town Indians’ were very frequent visitors to the Cinema before 1935.[53] He had moved from his village home in Esperanza Estate and gone to Port-Of-Spain to live with his parents in the late 1920s where he met Abdul Samad and John Mohan. They were accustomed to seeing ‘English’ movies in the Cinemas.[54]

The culture of Trinidad in 1935 was mixed with the British influence, the Spanish Influence, the French Influence, American Influence, African culture and the East Indian influence. Despite the best efforts of the British Empire, American films influenced many sections of the community.  In later years, many carnival bands such “Quo Vadis”   produced by Harold Saldenah and steel bands such as Casablanca drew heavily on American films in both form and content for their various portrayals and names.

It was not until 1935 that a permanent dent in the hegemonic hold of Hollywood films in Trinidad was made when Indian movies first made their appearance here. “Indian” movies  such as   Prem Sanyas  (1925) and Shiraz (1928)  and were previously shown in Trinidad, but were not considered Indian movies in the true sense of the word even though some featured Indian actors and actresses.  They were not considered Indian movies, mainly because they were produced by non -Indians from England and Germany or other places.  For example, two of the earliest “Indian” movies seen here in Trinidad, Prem Sanyas (1925) and Shiraz (1928) were both directed by the German Franz Osten, while Karma (1933), a Talkie film unlike the others, was an Anglo-British production. [55]  It is interesting to note that Prem Sanyas was advertised and shown in Trinidad under its English title “Light of Asia” being described as a “production of Oriental splendor.”[56] All these films were in English, and were aimed primarily at the plantocracy class and did not pose a problem to the Hollywood hegemony in Trinidad. By 1941, Just six years after its introduction in the colony, Indian movies   accounted for “as much as 22% of all film imports to Trinidad.” [57] This figure continued to rise over the years as Indian movies gained in popularity and Indian film distributors began to seriously compete for a larger share of the cinema market in Trinidad.  By 1960, twenty five years after Ranjit Kumar brought Bala Joban to Trinidad, Indian films accounted for 28% of all films imported into the country while the American Hollywood films accounted for 45% of such importation. [58]

But as Indian movies gained in popularity so too did the number  of  cinemas increase to cater to the growing Indian movie audience. As pointed out earlier there was a major increase in the number of cinemas between 1946 and 1948. We shall focus briefly on this increase in the number of cinemas in Trinidad between 1946 in 1940 to determine possible causes for such increase.

 Figure 3  (see appendix 3) shows the location of cinemas in the country while figure four (see appendix 4) shows the ownership of cinemas.

Figure 3 clearly demonstrates that most of the cinemas were located in rural areas of Trinidad while figure suggests that more than 90% of the cinemas owned by Indo Trinidadians. Was there a link between the “ethnic ownership” of these cinemas and the exhibition of Indian movies in Trinidad. It is perhaps possible no doubt to draw a link between the location of the cinemas on the fact that they were owned by Indo Trinidadians. In many cases  many of the rural cinemas were owned by Indo Trinidadians from the community itself for example Kubairsingh in Penal, Pulwarty in California, Aziz in San Juan and Moonan in Rio Claro. It is quite possible that as Indian movies gained in popularity and the fact that the majority of the East Indian population was located in the rural districts   entrepreneurs of Indo Trinidadian extract seized the opportunity to establish cinemas in the rural areas in order to capitalize on this mushrooming industry. As noted earlier many of the Indo Trinidadians did not fancy and English movies in those early days but came out in droves for the Indian cinema. Ramnath pointed out that in many instances entrepreneurs used the popularity of the tent cinemas in the rural areas in deciding where to locate their  “new” cinemas. It was reasoned therefore that as the tent cinemas exhibited Indian movies in the rural areas many entrepreneurs from those areas saw the opportunity of income generation from the cinema business and thus established cinemas in those areas. Some of the cinemas that were established in this manner included Sunset in California, Emerald in Waterloo, Sunbeam in Penal, Star in Chaguanas, Mars in El Dorado, Tyrol in Barrackpore, Stella in Couva and Crown and Liberty in Rio Claro.

During  the  period of the 1920s up to 1930 very few  rural cinemas were established. From 1931 there seemed to be a gradual increase in the number of cinemas, and this might have been due  to the introduction of sound in films. After 1935 with the introduction of Indian movies(with sound and songs ) the increase in the number of cinemas in the country seemed to have quickened. By 1938 there were   15 rural cinemas compared to eight cinemas in Port of Spain. By 1946 of  40 cinemas in the country, 25 cinemas  were in the rural areas. By 1947 out of 48 cinemas in the country, 31 were in the rural areas and by 1948, out of 58 cinemas in the country,

 41 were considered to be  in rural areas (11 in Port-of-Spain and 6 in San Fernando).

These figures show that between 1900 and 1935 very few Rural cinemas were established. After 1935  the majority of   new cinemas that came on stream between 1935 and 1948 were established in the rural areas of the country. All were owned by Indo Trinidadians and they all screened Indian Movies.

The view is also be expressed that this period prior to India’s independence in 1948, was filled with a lot of emotions regarding “Indianness”and “Indian identity”and it is quite possible that these emotions had its sequel in the cinemas as more and more Indo Trinidadians turned to the Indian movies as a means of identification with India and its struggle for independence. In addition local organizations such as the East Indian Congress had started holding meetings across the country in an effort to identify with Indian independence struggle. They began their meetings here in Trinidad with the proposed Indian National Anthem

 The juxtapositioning of the hightened indian independence “mood” combined with Indian Indenty issues among East Indians in Trinidad may have been a factor in the establishment of cinemas in the rural areas as entrepreneurs sought to take advantage of the prevailing emotive conditions in the East Indian community.

Another view advanced for the expansion of the film Industry during the 1946 – 48 period was the fact that this was just after the war (WW11) and many people had surplus funds, accumulated during the war, which they were willing to invest. The cinema industry showed growth potential encouraging many entrepreneurs to invest in the industry. This coincided with the  local trade war between two local Indian film distribution companies in Trinidad.

The Distribution of Indian Films in Trinidad.

 Did the local Indian film distribution trade war between India Overseas International  and International Traders Limited   fuel the expansion of the exhibition of Indian movies in Trinidad?   Did it influence the establishment of new cinemas in rural areas of the country to cater to the growing need for Indian movie  screenings among  Indo Trinidadians.? Perhaps this episode of the distribution of Indian films in Trinidad might shed some light on the increase of cinemas between 1946 — 48 in Trinidad.

Until 1935, all film distribution companies in Trinidad were either European or American based and imported mainly American or European movies.  Ranjit Kumar, mentioned earlier, an Indian from Rawalpindi in the Punjab brought the first Indian movie to Trinidad and became the first distributor of Indian movies here. For two years after 1935, he continued to import movies from India and distribute them to local cinemas, both here and in Guyana. Murli Kirpalani and others also began importing Indian films in 1936 and Kumar confesses that he received stiff competition from this outfit and Humphrey’s Colonial Film Exchange Company during this period. (1936-1938).[59] The Colonial Film Exchange Company, which had bought all of Ranjit Kumar’s film stock in 1938, also became a distributor of Indian movies locally.  During this time, it distributed films from stock purchased from Ranjit Kumar. Among others who distributed Indian movies in the early period were Sarran Teelucksingh and Timothy Roodal.  As mentioned earlier, both Teelucksingh and Roodal were involved in the tent cinema business and in this way, they also took the Indian movies to many rural areas of the country.

India Overseas Ltd., which later became India Oversees International Ltd., was the next distribution house that came on the scene to distribute Indian movies in Trinidad in the early 1940s.[60]  India Overseas dominated the local distribution of Indian movies in Trinidad for many years until International Traders Limited came on the scene in 1946.  At around that time a number of cinemas “came on stream” and began  showing Indian movies regularly. This was due mainly to a distribution war  which had broken out between India Overseas Ltd. and International Traders Limited reminiscent of the earlier distribution wars between MGM, Paramount pictures and other film companies in Trinidad in the 1930s.

The distribution trade war between these two Indian movie distribution companies saw a number of new cinemas also coming on stream. Many cinemas chose exclusive contracts with one or the other of these distribution houses – India Overseas Ltd., or International Traders Limited. Some of the major cinemas that supported India Overseas Ltd. offering their Indian films were Emerald(Carapaichaima ), Tyrol(Barrackpore ), Paradise(Chaguanas ), Sunset(California ), Sunbeam( Penal), Venus( La Romain), Zenith( Gasparillo) and Embassy(Port of  Spain) while those cinemas that supported International Traders Limited showing their Indian films included Mars (El Dorado ), Crest (Curepe ), Palladium (Tunapuna ), Rex (Diego Martin ), Jubilee (Chaguanas ), Revue(       ), Universal (Fyzabad) and Cameo(      ).    This cinema turf war between these two prominent Indian film distribution companies in Trinidad was a healthy one that augured well for   local Indian cinema fans, as it served to provide them with a much wider choice of movies.In addition many cinemas held weekly specials for Indian movies during the  mid-week,  for example, “Ladies night” at half price and from all appearances based on feedback from interviewees those sessions were sold out.

There was a steady stream of top Indian movies being released in Trinidad, to the delight of local Indian movie fans during this period.  This distribution and advertising war saw films being advertised through many media including shopping windows in stores, billboards, mike men, and of course the  print and electronic media. The question that needs to be asked is whether it is coincidental that during the period 1946 — 48, coming just after the war when many Indo- Trinidadians had surplus funds on their hands and were looking for investment opportunities, that this trade war in the distribution of  Indian movies in Trinidad took place. There is no doubt that because of the that particular Indian film distribution trade war there was an influx of Indian movies into the country, more than could be easily  absorbed by the existing cinemas. Since most of the Indo Trinidadians lived in rural areas and from all accounts   demonstrated a preference for Indian movies and the fact that most of the new cinemas were established in the rural areas seems to point in the direction that East Indian movies did  in fact have some influence in the establishment of these new cinemas Trinidad.

 Bajnath “Sonny” Maharaj and his wife Cecelia Maharaj remained with the company (International Traders Limited) from 1946 to 1961.When Maharaj and his family left the company, they migrated to Guyana and founded a Guyanese film distribution outfit called  International Film Distributors.[61] Other film distribution companies that operated in Trinidad and distributed Indian movies included DS Pictures, International Film Distributors Ltd.; De Luxe’s Films Ltd.[62]; National Films; Galaxy Films; and AMA Films.[63]

The film distribution market in Trinidad at present is shared among American films, Bollywood films and Chinese films with American films having the lion’s share of the market.  This scenario is likely to continue, as it is very unlikely that either Chinese films or Bollywood films could overtake   American films in the near future.

The Mike Men

The Mike men have made the greatest impact on both young and old in the promotion of Indian movies in Trinidad during the period of the late 1940s, 1950s and the 1960s through the songs that came with the movies. [64] The Mike men generally owned and operated a roving public address system with two funnel shaped loudspeakers, which were usually bolted to the roof of a motor car. They went to the countryside and city areas announcing the movies, distributing leaflets and playing songs from the Indian movies. Distribution Houses and individual cinemas hired them to go into the countryside and publicise the Indian movies being released.Wherever they went, they were a major attraction. They were also a regular feature at most East Indian functions especially the “cooking night”

[night before the Hindu wedding]

. The Mike men became an integral part of the pre-and post-Indian movie experience as they traversed the countryside. Their most significant impact was in the playing of Indian film songs at weddings, cooking nights and other such occasions. Every mike man had a repertoire of popular Indian film songs he played for the enjoyment of his audience. The mike man’s visit in the village was not a very common event and Ramdeowar,one of the early mike men recalls that whenever he passed through the village playing Indian songs or just simply making an announcement it was such a spectacular sight to observe, that “people  stopped whatever they were doing and rushed out to the roadside to ‘see’(hear) the mike and collect handbills as the mike passed by. It was a  novelty for them to see the mike and hear the songs. People waved to us and made us feel special as we passed through the villages. Many young boys and girls followed the mike through the village, some collecting the handbills we distributed”[65]  Wherever the mike played in those days, the mike man was the center of attention and always tried to accommodate requests for songs from the audience. Lallie Beharry,now 64 years, recalls that as a young girl whenever she and her friends went to the cooking night they were sure to make requests of the mike man to play their favorite songs and they were always accommodated. She recalls that at one particular cooking night in the early 1960s the mike man played her favorite song seven times within a two hour period much to the envy of her friends.[66]

The mike men, it can be concluded, have made a tremendous contribution to the development of the cinema industry in Trinidad through their publicity of the Indian movies and the promotion of Indian songs from the movies. Ramesh Boodoo contends that it was because of the publicity work of the mike men the people in the rural areas became acquainted with the screening of the Indian movies and attended the cinema in droves on weekends.He submitted that he rarely used the mike men to publicise ‘English’ movies since it was rather uneconomical because the attendance from the rural areas for English movies was negligible.



From very humble beginnings, the evolution of the film and cinema houses was a very gradual process that involved several individuals across the globe in the United States Of America, Europe and other countries all working on similar inventions but which, in sum, culminated in what eventually emerged as cinema.  This evolution drew its strength from science, technology and other areas making significant  progress  within the last few decades. The spoils of the film kingdom became a shared domain among the many film-producing countries such as the USA, England, France, India, Italy, Canada, South America and other nations.  In addition, while producers in the film world were making great progress in their field the architectural and other personnel were also making strides in the design and construction of cinema houses for the comfort and entertainment of its patrons.  The coming together of these two strands in the cinema house was a welcome achievement for patrons who were able to sit in comfort and enjoy movies of the highest quality.

In Trinidad, the cinema industry developed mainly along linear lines, although in the early stages of its development here there were some attempts at vertical integration.  Hollywood movies dominated the scene here in Trinidad until 1935 when Indian movies made their entrance in the local cinema landscape.  From 1935 to 1978, there was a steady rise in the number of cinemas in the country,increasing to 76 in 1978.


The expansion of the local cinema industry during the late 1940s and early 1950s  when there was an increase of twenty plus cinemas during a few years (1946-52)   can be attributed partly to influence of Indian movies and to the Indian Film Distribution War between India Overseas International Ltd. and International Traders Ltd. Most of the cinemas established during this period were in the rural areas and catered to East Indian audience.

The indicators suggest that the rural cinema audience seemed to have had a preference for Indian movies. and  that the  majority of  the cinema audience in rural Trinidad  during the 1940s were made up of East Indians. In addition the evidence suggests that the financial returns from the exhibition of Indian movies in rural Trinidad was the mainstay of most of the cinemas established there during the period under consideration. Some indicators also  point to an inference that in the mid1940s several cinemas established in Trinidad may have been brought on stream primarily to cater to the rural East Indian audience and their preference for Indian movies.In addition the evidence suggest that  most of the cinemas over the years have been owned and operated by persons of East Indian descent.

It is clear therefore that “Indian factor” in this case the Indo Trinidadians ( or persons of East Indian descent) and  Indian movies have had a profound influence on the development of  the cinema industry in Trinidad and Tobago.


Anthony,  Michael –  The making of Port-of-Spain  National Cultural Council, 1973 . Print

Bloomfield and Grierson on documentation  ed. Forsyth Hardy , London, Collins 1946.

Bridget Brereton, Brinsley Samaroo and Glenroy Taitt, Dictionary of Caribbean Biography, volume 1 Trinidad and Tobago, UW I St. Augustine, 1998. Print

Census of the Colony of Trinidad and Tobago 1911.  Register  General’s Office Port-of-Spain. Government Printery  1913 Print

Central Statistical Office, Annual Statistical Data  1946,1950,1955,1960,1962,1966,1976,1978.  Print

Macedo, Lynn. “Impact of Indian films in Trinidad.” The Society For Caribbean Studies Annual Conference Papers 3 (2002). Print. 

Macedo, Lynne.  The Impact of Indian films in Trinidad.  Paper presented at The Society for Caribbean Studies Conference University of Warwick. 1– 3 July 2002.  Print

         Neptune, Harvey R    Taliban and the Yankees: Trinidad and the United States Occupation The University of North Carolina Press. 2007 Print

Ranjit Kumar and Thoughts and Memories of Ranjit Kumar  (autobiography)  Inprint Caribbean Ltd. Trinidad.1981.Print           

Smith,.Lloyd Sydney Trinidad, who, what, why: public life, business, people, sport. Port-of-Spain, Trinidad: B. W. I., 1950. Print

Who’s Who in Trinidad and Tobago Business 2001-2002. Feb 2,2008 http:// www who’s who


 [1]  Mirror. Port of Spain .15 Feb. 1900 p13. (Hereafter Mirror)

[2] A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially spoken dialogue. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound was only made possible in the late 1920s with the introduction of the Vitaphone system.

[3]  Mirror  1 April 1905   p 6

[4] The first purpose- built cinema was established in Vitascope Hall, on Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, June 26, 1896.  In England the first cinema was opened in Central Hall in Colne, Lancashire 1907 while in France, it began in 1895 when the Lumiere Brothers gave their first demonstration in that country. In India, the first cinema house was the Gaiety, which opened in Madras in 1914

[5]   Mirror – 13 April 1905. Letters to the editor.

[6]  Michael Anthony  –  The making of Port-of-Spain  National Cultural Council, 1973 p 129

[7] Census of the Colony of Trinidad and Tobago 1911.  Register  General’s Office Port-of-Spain. Government Printery  1913

               [8] Among the films shown were Dreams of Toyland’, ‘Leopard Queen’ and ‘Abduction of Louis XVI’ Mirror     

                2  Feb.1911

 [9] Mirror 2 Feb.1911

               [10] Cinemas were usually constructed with three sections, the front lower area being the Pit, the middle to back area being the House while the upper raised portion hanging over the back area of the House was called the Balcony.  In some cinemas there was a fourth section called the Box, which was normally reserved for special guests.  The cheapest section was Pit with the most expensive being Balcony.

               [11] Matinee was the name given to the daytime shows especially the noon shows.

[12] Anthony, 176. When Belasco left the London Electric Theatre, some of its patrons who were great fans of his followed him to the Olympic Theatre and London Electric suffered a temporary setback.

               [13] These serial thrillers comprised of several reels not all shown at the same session but over a period of days depending on the length.  Patrons returned on another day to see the continuation of the thriller story.  Some of these thrillers were as long as 32 reels each lasting from 15 to 30 minutes.

               [14] I nterview with Dipchand Maharaj,90 years.. St. Augustine.29/01/10

               [15] TG  25 Sept.1920

[16]T G  11 May 1931

[17]  Meah Gokool – (1848 – 1940) was a landowner and cinema operator in Trinidad. See Endnote  30 for more on Gokool

[18]  Lloyd Sydney Smith. Trinidad, who, what, why: public life, business, people, sport. Port-of-Spain, Trinidad: B. W. I., 1950. p 414   (hereafter Trinidad WWW)

[19]T G 19 March 1933 p16

[20] T.G  15 Jan. 1930 p8;18 Jan.1930 p8;19 Jan.p8

[21] T.G. 29 Jan 1930, p8

             [22] TG Dec.17,1932. P16

              [23] Talking films, or films with sound, were introduced in America in the late 1920s and began to dominate the film world. The first talking film produced in America was the “The Jazz Singer” in 1927 while the first talking movie produced in India was “Alam Ara” in 1931.

[24] TG 19 Dec.1935. p 1

[25]  Timothy Roodal (1884-1952) was a cinema owner, politician and oil magnate. See Endnote  32 for more on Roodal.

[26] News shorts were reels of actual film shots taken of actual news events worldwide.  However, at this time most of these news reels consisted of  shots taken in the war front in Europe of soldiers actually in battle.  These news items were shown in local cinemas to promote the British war front efforts to the local cinema fans.

[27]Lynne Macedo.  The Impact of Indian films in Trinidad.  Paper presented at The Society for Caribbean Studies Conference University of Warwick. 1– 3 July 2002  p2. (Hereafter Macedo)

[28] Central Statistical Office, Annual Statistical Data   (hereafter CSO,ASD),#s 2 p157; 12 p208; 16 p 158;1

p 158;24 p209

[29] interview Didchand Maharaj, 90 years. St. Augustine. 16/02/10

[30] interview with her Ramesh Boodoo. 65 years. Sangre Grande.15/05/08

[31] interviews with Kenneth Lalla and Francis Chadee. 27/07/08 and 09/08/08 respectively

[32] In 1922 Meah Gokool(1848 – 1940)  performed the Haj (Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca). In his will, he established the Haji Gokool Meah Trust, a trust to continue the charitable works which had earned him the title Meah (benefactor). In1923 he joined Kazi Syed Abdul Aziz, Haji Ruknuddin Meah and Abdul Ghany to set up the TIA, and was a generous donor to their projects.   When he died he left $1million in a trust fund to his son Noor to administer to the poor.  Noor passed it on to an institution which established the Haji Gokool Meah Trust Fund then valued at $1.93 million in 1967 for the poor, needy and education in general.—1939/Page1.html 24/11/09

[33]Who’s Who in Trinidad and Tobago Business 2001-2002. Feb 2,2008 http:// www who’s who

              [34] Meah Gokool – (1848 – 1940) :Bridget Brereton, Brinsley Samaroo and Glenroy Taitt, Dictionary of Caribbean Biography, volume 1 Trinidad and Tobago, UW I St. Augustine, 1998.p.48.( Hereafter DCB 1)

[35] Trinidad WWW.p 414

               [36] Timothy Roodal (1884-1952) was a cinema owner, politician and oil magnate. He was at various times, Borough Councillor in San Fernando, Mayor of San Fernando, Member of the Legislative  Council 1928 — 1950, Member of the Executive Council and  held many other distinguished positions, He went into the cinema business, first building the Gaiety Cinema in San Fernando in the early 1930s, and then later in 1934 establishing the Roxy cinema in Port of Spain.  By 1947, he became the largest cinema owner in the Caribbean owning some eight cinemas in Trinidad alone having bought out the Humphrey Empire for $1 million.  Among the cinemas that he owned in Trinidad are: De Luxe, Royal, Roxy, Rio, Ritz, Rivoli, and Gaiety. Guyana- Metropole, Empire, London, Rialto and Capitol.  Barbados: Empire and Olympic. DCB 1 p90-91. Trinidad WWW p86,414   

[37]  Astor Cinema. This is the oldest cinema in Trinidad formerly the London Electric Cinema opened in 1911. It was renovated by the Teelucksingh Theatres Ltd in 1947 and renamed Astor when it was reopened then.

[38]DCB 1 .p. 101.

              [39]  Ranjit Kumar (1911-1982) See Appendix ii  and Thoughts and Memories of Ranjit Kumar  (autobiography) for more on Ranjit Kumar

               [40] Interview with Ramjattan Ramdeowar, St. Augustine……………08. In this interview Ramdeowar was insistent that in 1936 he had seen the Indian movie “Vengeance is Mine”. However considerable checks in various newspapers of the time did not reveal any Indian movie of that name.It was later discovered that the movie “Veer Ka Badla” was often promoted under its English name “ Vengance is Mine”.

               [41] Interview with Harripersad Harrikissoon 11/07/08

The Hindu Jawaan Sangha was founded in 1976 to encourage youth development among other things. Its head office was at California in central Trinidad. Harripersad Harrikissoon was the President and Primnath Gooptar its Secretary.

[42] Ownership of cinemas in Trinidad and Tobago. It is assumed here that East Indian names are co-related to Indo Trinidadians or put another way Trinidadians of East Indian extract.

[43] British Cinematograph Act – 1927

              [44] Interview with Kenneth Lalla (27/07/08) and Francis Chadee (09/08/08)

[45] Bloomfield and Grierson on documentation  ed. Forsyth Hardy , London, Collins 1946.,97-101

[46] Harvey R  Neptune  Taliban and the Yankees: Trinidad and the United States Occupation The University of North Carolina Press. 2007

[47] The five major film studios in America at the time were as follows:

Warner Brothers Pictures was incorporated in 1923 by Polish brothers (Jack, Harry, Albert and Sam) in 1925; it merged with First National, forming Warner Brothers, First National Pictures.

Paramount Pictures.

RKO.  Well

MGM. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, formed in 1924 through a merger of three US film production companies: Metro Pictures Corporation (1916); Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (1917) and Louis B. Mayer Pictures Company (1918). Thus the name Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The famous Lions Roar in the studio’s opening logo scene was first used in 1928.

Fox film corporation

Columbia Pictures. (This company came sometime later)

              [48] follow-up telephone interview with James Ramnath, 20 August 2008

           [49]  Interview with James Ramnath., Sangre Grande , 15 May 2008

[50] Census  – 1946

              [51]  Interview with James Ramnath., Sangre Grande , 15 May 2008

[52] Interview with James Ramnath., Sangre Grande , 15 May 2008

[53] Interview with Narsaloo Ramaya, San Juan 5 may 2008

[54] These two friends were to later act in two local stage productions with Narsaloo Ramaya in “Gulshan Bahar”    and “Naya Zamana “ in the 1940s

[55] TG. 1 Nov.1933.p16

[56] TG.   29 Jan.1950.p 8

[57]Macedo, Lynn. “Impact of Indian films in Trinidad.” The Society For Caribbean Studies Annual Conference Papers 3 (2002). Print. p4. 

[58] CSO,ASD 1962

[59] Ranjit Kumar  autobiography

             [60] The story of how India Overseas Ltd. came into being is an intriguing one, because at the time Indarjeet Bahadoor Singh a Trinidad Indian diplomat working in India visited China during a film festival theRE and met an Indian national by the name of Goldikerry from Bombay who was visiting China to explore  possibilities in trading Indian films in China. Bahadoor Singh indicated to Goldikerri that there was a large market for Indian movies in Trinidad and suggested that he should get involved in the distribution of Indian movies there and other parts of the Caribbean including Guyana. Goldikerry followed up on this suggestion and formed a Film Distribution Company in Trinidad but sometime later another Indian national,Samptani also formed a film distribution company on the island. By 1942 both companies merged and  founded India Overseas (International) Ltd.

The foregoing information was supplied by Hansley Hanoomansingh, prominent radio broadcaster and former politician  during a telephone interview  with the author on 15/02/08

[61] Bajnath Maharaj and his family migrated to Guyana in 1961.  Anthony Maraj, one of their sons, however, later returned to Trinidad and became one of the major players in the local film industry working with several distribution companies before forming his own company.

[62] De Luxe films Ltd. was founded by Harbance Kumar and later managed by Anthony Maharaj

[63] AMA (Anthony Maharaj and Associates) was founded by Anthony Maharaj and Associates

              [63]  The Mike Men referred to here were a group of “ roving public address system owners” who owned and generally operated a pair of funnel type loud speakers which were usually bolted atop of a motorcar. These men were favourites at East Indian wedding cooking nights and other assemblies. Their systems, which are still used today, were used to make announcements of various kinds .

               [63] interview with  Ramdeowar 12/05/08

               [63]  Interview with Lallee Beharry. 26/10/09. Age 66



Table 1


Year                      Number  of


 1940 – 44       

45                            35

46                           40

47                           48

48                           58

49                           52

50                           49

51                           50

52                           52

53                           52

54                           49

55                           56

56                           58

57                           62

58                           62

59                          70

60                          69

61                          70

62                          71

63                          70

64                           66

65                          66

66                          68

67                          70

68                           –

69                          –

70                          72

71                         76

72                         76

73                         74

74                         70

75                        70

76                        76

77                       74

78                        68

Table 1 showing the number of cinemas by years. Information taken from CSO’s.  Annual Statistical Data for years indicated. No information is available after 1978



NAME OF CINEMA                                         PROPRIETOR

National Cinemas 1                                                                           Horace Teeluksingh

National Cinema 2                                                                            Horace Teeluksingh

Sanz                                                                                                     Harinal Ramkisson

Ritz                                                                                                       Harinal Ramkisson

Crest                                                                                                   Behadase Sagan Maraj

Planet                                                                                                 Rafeek  Ali

Palladium                                                                                           Dean Seetaram

Eros                                                                                                     Dr..         Seetaram

Monarch                                                                                             Narayansingh

Windsor                                                                                             Dolly Maharaj

Princess                                                                                              Baksh

Diana                                                                                                ……………………..

Ascot                                                                                                  Juteram

Silk                                                                                                      Boodoo

Liberty  1                                                                                           Moonan 

Liberty  2                                                                                           Moonan

Twilite                                                                                           Moonan

State      1                                                                                     Chandranath Seenath

State      2                                                                                     Chandranath Seenath

Globe Port-of-Spain                                                                   Gokool

Globe San Juan                                                                            Gokool

Globe   Chaguanas                                                                     Gokool

Tyrol                                                                                             ……………………….

Prince                                                                                          Singh [canefarmer from Barrackpore)

Humming Bird                                                                           Singh

Gem                                                                                            Aziz Ali

Zora                                                                                             Aziz Ali

Castle                                                                                         Aziz Ali

Oasis (Mayaro)                                                                        Maharaj

Venus                                                                                         Chandrews

Empire (Fyzabad)                                                                    Chandrews

Universal                                                                                   Chandrews

Odeon                                                                                        Dr. Evyonne Morgan

De Luxe                                                                                     Dr. Evyonne Morgan

Starlite                                                                                      Dr. Evyonne Morgan

Rex  (Morvant)                                                                        Sookraj

Rex   (Diego Martin)                                                               Sookraj

Rex    (Tobago )                                                                       Sookraj

Kay Donna                                                                                Sookaj

Tivoli                                                                                          Aron Badai

Regent                                                                                  Kubairsingh

Lisa                                                                                        Kubairsingh

Sunbeam                                                                             Kubairsingh

Zeneth                                                                                 ……………………

Hylite                                                                                  Roopnarine

Bell Air                                                                                  ……………………

Plaza                                                                                    Diptee

Air Colite                                                                             Pariag

Jubilee                                                                                 Saith

Regal                                                                                  Saith

Big B                                                                                   .Heeralal Bajnath

Astor (Main)                                                                       India Oversees International Ltd.

Astor (Mini)                                                                        India Oversees International Ltd. 

Metro (Couva)                                                                    India Oversees International Ltd.

Metro (San Fernando)                                                      India Oversees International Ltd.  

Palace                                                                                  Jimmy Maharaj

Empire                                                                                 Jimmy Maharaj

Gaiety                                                                                  Timothy Roodal

Roxy                                                                                     Timothy Roodal

Rivoli                                                                                    Soodeen

Strand                                                                                 Soodeen

Pax                                                                                      Pulwarty

Sunset                                                                                 Pulwarty

Alper (st James)                                                                Claudia Teelucksingh/Albert Persad

Alper ( Belmont)                                                                ClaudiaTeelucksingh/Albert Persad



Valpark                                                                              Valpark Mall ( leased to India oversees



Embassy-                    Port-Of-Spain

Emerald-                                                                                       Pulwarty

Flavin-                         La Brea

Globe –                       Princess Town

Hobosco 1-                                                                                      Bharath

Hobosco 11-                                                                                     Bharath


Metropole                                                                                        Chandrews/Lucky Samaroo

Paradise-                                                                                            Saith

Prime-                        San Fernando

Presidente-                                                                                         Aziz Ali                                                                                                         

Pyramid –                   Port-Of-Spain

Rialto-                                                                                                    Roodal

Royal –                     Port-Of-Spain

Skylon                                                                                                     Moonan

St James Theatre –                                                                                 Humphrey/ Roodal

Star –                                                                                                         Saith

Strand-                                                                                                     Lucky Samaroo Family                   

Strand                                                                                                       Lucky Samaroo Family                   

Strand-                                                                                                    Lucky Samaroo Family                   

Vistarama-                                                                                             Kelvin  Lucky                      

              [64]  The Mike Men referred to here were a group of “ roving public address system owners” who owned and generally operated a pair of funnel type loud speakers which were usually bolted atop of a motorcar. These men were favourites at East Indian wedding cooking nights and other assemblies. Their systems, which are still used today, were used to make announcements of various kinds .

               [65] interview with  Ramdeowar 12/05/08

               [66]  Interview with Lallee Beharry. 26/10/09. Age 66