Earlier this year, a newspaper headline read “150 single-screen cinemas in state to shut permanently” deftly marking a heartbreaking curtain fall to Bengaluru’s long-standing affair with its single-screen cinema halls.
A cinematic experience in the city even up until a few decades ago was drastically different from what it is today. Cinema was often synonymous with celebration, a festivity and an excuse for revelry amongst the Indian community.
Single-screen theatres with their kitschy decor and architecture were buzzing havens that enveloped people into its fictitious world of drama, thrill and adventure. These buildings which now stand as a lone portal to the city’s cultural past are crucial and relevant to the evolution of not just the cityscape but also the tastes of the communities that lived around them.
Rex theatre, an iconic single-screen cinema hall located on Bengaluru’s bustling Brigade road was almost revered as a heritage site. The cineplex which lost its battle to the test of time and rapidly growing infrastructure around it has a legacy of over 80 years to speak for itself. Located in the heart of the city, the hall was a haven for young couples, students, families and more.
Rex also happened to be one of the only theatres in the city that used to screen Hollywood films back in the day. The news of its demolition in 2018 came down devastatingly on the city’s public who took to social media to share their memories of the city’s glorious cinematic past.
Sameer Raichur, a Bengaluru-based photographer explored on his fascination for the city’s buildings and its façades. It is through visual expedition that he produced a striking photo-series that exposed the grandeur of the city’s dying single-screen cinema halls.
Throughout the series, Raichur is seen capturing the unperturbed essence of these spaces that now remain as a haunting souvenir of a time in history.
Raichur speaks of the city’s culturally heterogenous communities that have been active stakeholders in the growth of single-screen cinema halls. The city’s spatial design also contained a myriad of these communities into smaller pockets where these single-screen cinema halls propped up as an entertainment arena for all age groups. The films that were screened and the audience that it invited were also a key reminder of the vernacular and local culture of those vicinities.
Bangalore once had the largest concentration of independent movie theatres or ‘talkies’ anywhere in India. Cinema was the foremost pastime for the public and the importance of theatres in the local landscape is evidenced by the fact that many theatres serve as local landmarks in everyday vernacular, even those that have long been demolished.— sameerraichur.com/talkies
Through his photo-series, Raichur gives the netizens of today a quick glimpse into the world that was. What remains of those empty corridors, the dainty light of a distant glory that lingers within these halls and an array of empty seats that now gather dust and a heavy sense of languor.
Film exhibitors who have been battling with the property tax, high rentals, exceeding competition from multiplexes and malls dealt with another a heavy blow in the form of COVID-19.
The owners who were already reeling under the pressure of shifting markets, wavering audience and more were entirely stumped due to the pandemic that kept their doors locked for over 12 months in the first wave alone.
From being thriving icons of the city’s urbanscape, single-screen cinemas have turned into empty chambers where only whispers of yesteryear’s cinematic glories now linger on.
You can view Sameer Raichur’s series on Bangalore Talkies here.
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