Curtain falls on movie days: Bengaluru’s iconic Cauvery theatre to make way for commercial complex

The closure is also attributed to people’s ability to afford a unique living experience and comfort that has brought them close to the ‘mall culture’.
Bengaluru’s iconic Cauvery theatre that was the mainstay of movie goers for over 50 years was demolished to make way for a commercial complex.
Bengaluru’s iconic Cauvery theatre that was the mainstay of movie goers for over 50 years was demolished to make way for a commercial complex. | Shashidhar Byrappa

Those who were born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s used to wait for the day when they could head to theatres and immerse themselves in the joy of watching movies with cool drinks, popcorn, fryums and puffs, the halls filled with whistles, clapping and dancing fans, and return home after having their favourite chaat or ice-creams or masala dosa. Those golden days are long gone -- with the entry of multiplexes in the early 2000s and popularisation of OTT (over-the-top) platforms in the last decade, single-screen theatres are now on the verge of extinction.

Some popular single-screen theatres are now converted into marriage halls, shopping complexes, educational institutions and film shooting centres. Many theatres have been razed to make way for other structures and multiplexes due to increasing real estate value.

The closure is also attributed to people’s ability to afford a unique living experience and comfort that has brought them close to the ‘mall culture’. Ample space to park vehicles, an online booking system and the ability of multiplexes to create a cohesive and engaging cinematic experience for the audience have also drawn the masses.

250 theatres shut since January 2023

The success of Kannada films like KGF, Kantara, Charlie 777 and Kaatera gave a perception that the golden days for Kannada cinema were back. However, with 150 theatres shutting down since January 2023 and over 100 theatres on the verge of closure by the year-end, the future of single screens look bleak.

“Earlier, top heroes used to make at least four films a year and this helped theatres in districts, taluks and hoblis pull the crowds. Now, stars have stuck to the ‘one movie a year’ formula. Secondly, high-budget films end up fixing a high rate of admission, which leads to small theatres losing out to multiplexes, and finally, OTT platforms prevent the public from coming to theatres,” said NM Suresh, president of Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce.

Well-known theatre operator N Kumar, who once had 115 theatres on lease and has produced over 35 films, has bid goodbye to the business of running single-screen theaters. “I cannot afford to run theatres and am now doing production and planning for films. Paying power bills, water bills, salaries, ESI and PF to staff posed a big challenge to us,” said N Kumar.

The closure of single-screen theatres is not just restricted to cities like Bengaluru but is a common phenomenon in Mysuru, Mandya, Tumakuru, Hubbali, Dharwad, Kodagu, Udupi, Belagavi, Chitradurga, Hassan, Davanagere, Dakshina Kannada and other districts, with many iconic theatres becoming part of history.

“In the late 1990s, there were 1,000 theatres in Karnataka. In the last 15 years, the number came down to 350. Since January 2023, around 150 theatres have been shut down. Recently, Vijaya theatre in Dharwad and Shringar in Hubballi were shut. In Bengaluru alone, 60 theatres have been shut. In Hubballi, around 10 theatres closed, while in Mandya, Mahaveer, Girija and Siddhartha theatres were shut, and in Tumakuru, Prashanth was closed in 2023,” Kumar said.

The other reasons for theatres closing is the lack of release of mass hero films and production cost of big budget films going up to Rs 100 crore, said Kumar.

Mysuru

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Mysuru had 32 single screens, but post-pandemic, the numbers had come down to just 11. Theatre owners claim that running a cinema hall is not financially feasible anymore.

Lakshmi Talkies, one of the oldest theatres in the city, is now history. Similarly, Saraswathi theatre is closed, Shalimar and Ratna are converted to educational institutions, Ranjit is now a shopping mall, Sterling and Skyline are film shooting centres, a showroom has come up in Vidyaranya theatre, while Ganesha and Srinanda have been converted into marriage halls.

Cinema buff Sridhar said, “Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar and Maharaj Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar used to watch English movies at Regency and Gayatri theatres. Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar used to watch movies at Shanthala theatre. Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar watched a movie at Olympia theatre. Kannada movie Bangaradha Manushya had run for two years in Chamundeshwari theatre. Similarly, Kamal Hassan’s Sagara Sangamam and Marocharitra ran for one year at Gayatri. All these theatres are now history.”

Film buff Murali said it was a tradition in Mysuru for newly-wed couples to watch a movie in a city theatre and follow it up with masala dosa and jamoon at the famous Indira Bhavan Hotel. “Watching movies at the theatre and later having good food at traditional hotels had been a part of people’s life in Mysuru,” Murali said.

Udupi

Infrastructural development in the past two decades, coupled with improvement in people’s ability to afford a unique living experience and comfort has brought people close to the ‘mall culture’. Though many single-screen theatres are still operating in Udupi, like Kalpana, Diana and Alankar, one city theatre Geethanjali city closed its doors eight years ago as audience preferences changed.

Movie buff Deepak Saligrama said, “Ambience, comfort and affordability have drawn people towards multiplexes. Ample space for parking of vehicles, online booking system and the ability of multiplexes to create a cohesive and engaging cinematic experience for the audience also increased footfall in multiplexes.’’

In Karkala, single-screen theatres Radhika and Planet are functioning. The recent single-screen theatre that shut its door was Vinayaka in Kundapur town. Earlier, there were four single-screen theatres in Kundapur town and now with the closure of ‘Vinayaka’ theatre, there are no more single-screen theatres in Kundapur.

‘Kavirathna Kalidasa’, the 1983 Kannada-language historical drama film based on classical Sanskrit writer Kalidasa, starring Rajkumar, was shown in this theatre for the first time, besides several other hit films. Rishab Shetty’s Kantara was shown in this theatre for 100 days. Pushparaj, owner of Vinayaka theatre, said the theatre was closed due to scarce audiences.

Belagavi

Stating that the economic viability of single-screen theatres is a significant challenge, Mahesh Kugaji, who has already closed two of his three single-screen theatres, said, “Maintaining and upgrading these often-historic buildings can be prohibitively expensive. The multi-screen venues introduce schemes like free popcorn per ticket or a monthly package scheme. Single-screen theatres cannot afford to introduce such schemes.”

Kugaji said that coupled with increasing real estate value, many owners opted to sell their properties to developers, leading to a reduction in the number of single-screen theatres. While single-screen theatres face numerous challenges in the modern entertainment landscape, their charm and historical value continue to inspire preservation efforts, he said.

About 60 single-screen theatres in North Karnataka, including Hira, Huns, Radio, Roopali, Rex, Azad and Arun theatres in Belagavi city were closed after the pandemic.

Kodagu

Theatres are hard to find in Kodagu district and the district headquarters of Madikeri does not have a single theatre. It was known to have two single-screen theatres -- Basappa which was established in 1972, and Cauvery which initially functioned from a tent, also established in 1972. However, both theatres have now shut down and the facades stand demolished. While Basappa shut its doors due to losses nearly two decades ago, Cauvery shut its doors in 2020 during the lockdown. Currently, the district has only four theatres and this includes a modern Cineplex in Kushalnagar.

“People now watch movies on OTT. However, a theatre in the district headquarters is a must and steps need to be taken to establish one,” shared Anil HT, a resident of Madikeri who is a movie buff. There is no entertainment opportunity for residents or tourists in the city, he added.

He said that functioning of theatres in a district affected by wildlife conflict is a tough task. “During the day, residents go to work. And in interior parts of Kodagu, people cannot go out post 6pm due to wildlife movement. People cannot attend the second show at theatres, and the existing single-screen theatres in the district are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

Dakshina Kannada

The district had more than 30 single-screen theatres but most of them have been shut down with the arrival of multiplexes. Theatre owners say that people do not watch movies in single-screen theatres due to a lack of quality content and people opt for OTT. As many as 30 single-screen theatres have been shut down due to various reasons. “There were 10 single-screen theatres within a 6-km radius in Mangaluru, of which Amrit at Pandeshwar, Platinum at Falnir, New Chitra and Srinivas at Carstreet, Central at State Bank, and Jyothi at Ambedkar Circle have disappeared already,” said a film producer.

Santhosh, of 46-year-old Santhosh single-screen theatre which shut down recently in Sullia, said, “Earlier, there were no mobile phones or televisions in homes. Families used to go to theatres to watch films. Now they are all watching movies on OTT platforms. Also, star actors are releasing one or two movies in 3 to 4 years. Films of new actors do not run for long in theatres,” he said.

Now, Sullia, Bantwal and Puttur do not have single-screen theatres. “We have Suchitra, Prabhath, Ramakanti, Roopavani single-screen theatres in Mangaluru, Bharat in Belthangady and Amarashri in Moodbidri,” a film producer said.

Davanagere/C’durga

Scarcity or non-release of movies by top stars and the increasing number of OTT applications, are said to be the reasons for the diminishing number of theatres in the twin districts, says Ravishankar Babu, who owns a theatre in Harihar.

He said there was no big movie from Yash after KGF-2, Darshan’s Kaatera was the last big movie, and the demise of Puneet Rajkumar also led to few big movies and the slow death of theatres. Further, he said there are no viewers for movies of new actors and also non-commercial movies. The cost of maintaining theatres is abnormally high, because of which they are turning into commercial complexes.

In Davanagere, out of 13 theatres, only three are functional. In Chitradurga, out of six theatres, only three are working, while in Harihar, only one single-screen theatre is operational.

Hassan

Eight single-screen theatres of 20 have been closed so far. Decades-old Mallikarjuna and Banu theatres on BM Road, and Imperial on Hassan-Holenarasipur Road in Hassan are closed. Currently, SBG on Harshamahal Road, Pruthvi and Guru on BM Road, Sahyadri on Salagame Road and Picture Palace on City Bus Stand Road are running and trying to attract people by also screening English, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi movies. The five-decade old Imperial theatre was demolished due to its pathetic condition a decade ago, Mallikarjuna was turned into a commercial complex and Banu theatre was abandoned due to litigation.

Three theatres have been functioning in Channarayapatna, Arasikere and Sakleshpur taluk centres, and one each is closed so far. Holenarasipur has two, Arkalgud and Belur towns have one each, and all are limping due to a lack of cinema lovers. On condition of anonymity, one theatre owner said he is not interested in renovating or providing better facilities due to poor revenue. Sources said many theatres screen for only 10 people, and cannot even bear the power bills, and operator and staff salaries. Chandranna, a former employee of a theatre, said owners have invested in real estate and commercial complexes.

Retaining single-screen theatres

Suggesting measures that single screens can take to prevent closure, well-known theatre operator N Kumar said, “If theatre owners reduce ticket rates along with cost of food in theatres, more people will be interested to come.”

There were times when two movies of Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar used to run in different theatres at Kempe Gowda Road in Majestic. If producers and directors give a good films people will come, Kumar said and added that one good cinema will take care of 15,000 families dependent on theaters, Kumar said.

He also suggested that new movies should be allowed on OTT only after they complete 60 days in theatres.

(With inputs from Tushar A Majukar/ Belagavi, Divya Cutinho/ Mangaluru, Prajna G R/ Madikeri, B K Lakshmikantha/ Mysuru, Prakash Samaga/ Karwar, BR Udaya Kumar/ Hassan and G Subhash Chandra/ Chitradurga)

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