Nay Pyi Taw Theatre
Address:     242/248 Sule Pagoda Road
Year built:   Circa 1960/61
Architect:    Unknown
Shae Saung Cinema (formerly: Lighthouse Cinema)
Address:     198/200 Sule Pagoda Road
Year built:   Unknown
Architect:    Unknown

One long-time Yangon resident constulted for this book dates the Nay Pyi Taw Theatre’s construction to 1960 or 1961. After 1962, the cinema was leased to the Chinese Embassy and you could only watch Chinese films there for a time. The Shae Saung, a few doors down the street, seems to be roughly from the same period. The cinemas’ patterned façades evoke late 1950s and early 1960s design, which you also find in Thai and Cambodian cinemas from that era. These were usually private ventures by local businessmen riding a climate of post-independence optimism. In that sense, the architecture is clearly forward-looking and, you might say, self-consciously post-colonial. (On the other hand the entrance marquees—a 1930s invention in the West—give the entrances a certain vintage feel.)

The Nay Pyi Taw Theatre shows the latest Hollywood productions
The Shae Saung Cinema’s patterned façade evokes mid-century design

In this movie-mad city, these are popular stomping grounds for Yangon’s young and not-so-young. On any given week, the Nay Pyi Taw and Shae Saung will show the latest Hollywood and local productions. Some Bollywood films are shown here too. Tourists wanting a piece of the action should get there early. As the captivating Southeast Asia Movie Theatre Project describes on its website, upon visiting in 2010:

“[The films here] drew sell-out crowds. Fast-talking ticket scalpers did their dealings just off theatre grounds, selling tickets at inflated prices to those arriving minutes before show time. The mood was electric as hordes of revellers massed at the gates. The chatter, the excitement, the anticipation of escape into a temporary realm of the artificial was unrivalled.”

Both cinemas, like others on this stretch, are owned by the Mingalar Group. The Shae Saung (meaning “Pioneer”, and formerly known as the Lighthouse Cinema) has a capacity of 800. The Nay Pyi Taw holds 400. These are modern alternatives to the charmingly neoclassical Waziya Cinema around the corner.