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The pride of Taveuni

Luke Rawalai
Monday, February 05, 2018

THE Dateline 180th Meridian Cinema currently stands in ruins, casting a dismal shadow on the bustling shopping centre of Wairiki, Taveuni.

Unattended and ignored, it is a distant reminder of its heydays.

It is the only cinema in the world where you could cross to a new day if you changed seats.

This building was the island's centre of attraction after its construction in 1954 by the late Ambaram Dayaram, a photography enthusiast who had passion in the arts and the entertainment industry.

Listed in 1959 as a hall, the structure used to host talent quests, public debates and screen movies.

It used to be the meeting place for those living on the north and southern tip of the island.


The late Mr Dayaram was the son of the late Dayaram Fakir who hailed from Navsari in Gujrat, India, and a tailor by profession.

In 1924 he travelled to Fiji where he spent a year in Nausori.

He came with his son who bore nine children, all turned out to hold Taveuni close to their hearts.

On Taveuni, the late Mr Dayaram had a passion for photography and his camera has captured a perfect timeline of the island's history.

According to his great grandson and Taveuni businessman, Champak Lal Dayaram, his great grandfather left India with his only son, the late Mr Ambaram.

They were later joined by his late great grandmother after 15 years because of the war in Asia.

Mr Champak said in 1954 after securing a loan with the then Bank of New Zealand, his father proceeded to build the cinema amidst a lot of difficulties, especially with the transportation of the building materials, at an age when transportation was a challenge.

"It used to be one of the biggest cinemas in the country in its heydays and it has a lot of happy memories for those that have long gone," he said.

"The first movie to be screened in the cinema was His Majesty O'Keefe a movie partly shot in Fiji.


Mr Champak said operating a cinema back then was a lot of work considering that it involved crowd control.

"The cost of running movies on neutral base costs a fortune but we had cinemas like Damodar Brothers, Para Brothers who used to supply us with our movie needs," he said.

"In anything involving 300 people it could get rowdy and out of control at any time, so operating a cinema required control and patience.

"Back then going to the movies was a social event, unlike now where the young have everything within their reach. "Movie screenings took place on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and mind you there was always a full house."

Mr Champak said the cinema was very much a part of community building back in the days.


"My sister Hassum Mati Dayaram was the first female projection assistant in the cinema back in 1969," he said.

"Like her, the cinema was something that we treasured through the years and would like to maintain it, but there is land issues associated with the cinema that is out of our reach.

"The excitement of the movies got to the whole family and we were just proud to be hosting people from the south and north of the island.

"Considering that the cinema has outlived other cinemas on the island, it has almost become a family heirloom and if given the chance and opportunities I would proudly restore it to its former glory because it is indeed a national landmark — the pride of the island."

Mr Champak said to get the old cinema up and running again would require a budget of $0.5 million.

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