Kannada films once thrived in the single-screen theatres of Bengaluru. Photographer Sameer Raichur captures the architecture, energy and drama of these spaces
Brigade Road’s air-conditioned Rex theatre ran its last film on 31 December
Fascinated by buildings and their façades, photographer Sameer Raichur started shooting single-screen theatres in and around Bengaluru in 2016. He is not interested in them merely because they are relics of the past, struggling to break even in the age of plush multiplexes and overpriced popcorn, but because he loves their architecture. “It’s inviting. They are designed in a way that pulls people into the drama inside," says Raichur.
The 33-year-old documentary photographer has shot over 20 such theatres, most of them in Bengaluru, and some on the highway to Mysuru. Raichur observes that these theatres are often architectural mishmashes, mixing art deco with brutalism, with a clash of colours, unlike the purely art deco-inspired forms seen in Mumbai or Kolkata. Many of these also bear the signature of architect K.N. Srinivasan, credited with designing more than 80 theatres across India, including Santosh theatre in Bengaluru, established in 1972 during the heyday of the Kannada film industry.
Shooting the series Bangalore Talkies meant building trust with the owners, staff and audience. In many cases, Raichur says, he would arrive about 20 minutes before the show began and request permission from people to shoot. At one cinema hall, an usher offered to help him out, introducing visitors to Raichur at the theatre door as they showed him their tickets.
Raichur says, “A couple of decades ago, going to the cinema was not what it is today. People took time off to do it, even a day off if needed. These single-screen theatres are a portal to the past." Today, “the cultural relevance of these theatres is lost," he adds.
Despite poor business, however, most owners have maintained these theatres. As his images show, these are not dead spaces meant to be appreciated for their architectural history alone. Some are still in use, mainly by college students and families from lower-income groups.
Some, however, have lost the battle. Brigade Road’s air-conditioned Rex theatre, for instance, ran its last film on 31 December bringing down the curtain on a legacy of entertaining cinemagoers for over 80 years. It is being replaced by a mall and a multiplex with four screens.