The slow demise of Bangalore’s Single-Screen Theatres

On the last day of the last month of 2018, Rex Theatre in Bangalore screened its very last movie.

The news came as a disappointment to Bangaloreans, not just in the city, but around the world. Many took to social media to share their most cherished memories of Rex. To some, it was where they saw their very first English movie. To others, it was where they had their first date. As saddened as all were, they weren’t shocked. In a long list of single-screen theatres that once occupied a premier place in Bangalore’s real estate and in Bangaloreans’ hearts, Rex was just another establishment that had reached the end of its 80-year-long, storied run, to pave the way for a plush multiplex and a glittery shopping mall.

single screen theatres in Bangalore
How it once was – the iconic Rex Theatre

Bangalore was once home to single-screen theatres in the hundreds, and going to the movies was a thrilling experience. From booking tickets to exiting the theatre into blinding sunlight or a bone-chilling breeze, every part of the movie-going experience in a single-screen theatre was magical. Sure, there was no 4K viewing, and no Dolby Atmos, for at least several decades. Still, there was something inexplicably wonderful about the theatrics of it all; it was one of the few experiences that united the old Bangalore City and Cantonment. Irrespective of gender, age and income, everyone could head to the movies, with cheap popcorn and cola in tow, and kaati rolls, chips or softees after.

As the city grew, it changed; and so did its movie-going culture. And in this changed city, single-screen theatres had no place. Multiplexes and malls mushroomed across Bangalore’s public places while streaming services took over Bangaloreans’ homes. Many iconic single-screens across erstwhile cantonment, pete and other areas of Bangalore, closed curtains for the final time.

Photographer Sameer Raichur captures the essence of single-screen theatres in Bangalore. Here is a line of movie-goers at Prasanna Theatre.

In the 1970s, Liberty and Empire theatres bid us adieu. In the 1980s, BRV followed suit and was converted into a military canteen. The 90s saw Imperial, Blu Diamond and Blu Moon shut shop. The 2000s had a commercial establishment replace Galaxy and the metro rail take over the Plaza. Soon, Symphony transformed into Fame Shankarnag, and Lido became INOX. Opera House, which once stood opposite Rex, is now an experience centre for Samsung. Everest theatre in Frazer town, too, bit the dust.

single screen theatres in Bangalore
Plaza on M.G Road was built in 1936, and because of its presence in Cantonment Bangalore, it mostly screened Hollywood movies. Source: Wikipedia

On the other side of the city, the Gandhinagar-KempeGowda Road stretch was once dubbed the ‘Broadway for Kannada movies’. Today, the road’s legendary theatres Alankar, Geetha, Kapali, Majestic, Kempegowda, Tribhuvan, Himalaya, Kalpana, Prabhat and Geeta Sagar exist only in our memories.

Single-screen theatres were and are (the few that still stand the test of time) institutions with rich histories of their own. They were heroes of their neighbourhoods, a place of respite, relaxation and entertainment for many. Watching movies was special back then; it was so much more than the plot or the star cast. We’d dress in something of our Sunday best to sit amongst a whistling crowd. Today, with over 300 screens (most from multiplexes) taking over the city and the internet in charge of our in-home entertainment, watching movies isn’t as special anymore.

Image credit: Pee Vee

Rex Theatre is now a mall and a multiplex. Named Director’s Cut, it is one of PVR’s hundred-plus multiplexes, in Forum Rex Walk, a shopping centre. The theatre has a state-of-the-art 4K laser projection system, a 7.1 Dolby surround system, leather recliners, call buttons, swivel seats and a lot more. But as old Bangaloreans will vouch, the glittery new theatres can never hold a candle to the community viewing experience – filled with the sound of hoots, claps and whistles, the smell of warm butter popcorn and spilt cola, and the excited chatter of movie-goers irrespective of society’s demarcations – of single-screen theatres in Bangalore.

Rex Theatre, photographed by Sameer Raichur

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