India is a land of diversity expressed through its arts in every form. One of the many art forms is story-telling. While growing up we all have heard stories of kings from faraway lands or princesses waiting across oceans and many rivers. The art of story-telling and the world of imagination always stayed with us. These art forms of oral narration soon began to be represented through folk theatres; accompanied with traditional music and dance. Sometimes these stories will be enacted out on a stage during a festival, or during a procession or at the gate of our home or village square. Udupi is no different when it comes to showcasing its high talent in theatre. Artists have travelled from places far away to relive and narrate the great epics, local folklore or lifestyle challenges. Soon theatrical performances began to be performed in open spaces. These theatres became places of family gatherings and recreation of such needs became more apparent. It was only in 1908, at Udupi that recreation of such type was showcased inside a built structure. With the advent of cinema in Udupi, it was almost a beginning of new architectural and recreational dialogue introduced in the otherwise quaint temple town along the Ghats of Western India. Even though movies were a new art form; it gradually became popular amongst the people. From traditional art forms, a slight liking towards movies was visible. Udupi also began to set up movie theatres as major city landmarks and thus added into the change of its urban-scape. It was in 1908 that the first movie was projected in Udupi. It was a silent movie. But by 1931, talkies were also introduced and the era of silent movies slowly began to vanish. Udupi, too quickly embraced the fast development of science and technology in movie projection. Udupi, the quaint temple town in fact is a place which has few of the oldest movie theatres in India The fast pace of urbanisation has not yet caught up with the daily life of the people of Udupi. Thus, most of the movie theatres continue to exist. These talkies with their stark Art Deco architecture established in the heart of major landmarks, are almost making a statement of a new paradigm. Even though these buildings were established a few years before India’s independence, the location and its proximity to the Krishna Mutt narrated an untold dominance of the people of Udupi. These theatres were strategically designed in the heart of the town which blend with the architecture of these buildings and the dynamics of their contexts, making them landmarks in the town of Udupi. Most of the theatres are located in a dense commercial zone which includes shops and other outlets like clothes stores, Hotels, Jewelleries, Banks etc. These theatres and their surroundings evolved by sharing mutual benefits in terms of commercial activities and attracting crowds. Gradually the places turned out to be a hub as a recreational space for families during holidays etc. As they all located in and around the town even during major festivals people gather near movie theatres. People even from far flung villages also used to travel to Udupi majorly to watch movies in movie theatre and for a family outing. With a demand for such spaces, no of seats too began to be increased. The movie theatres and their premises together evoke nostalgia for the people of Udupi. These theatres can still hold up-to 300 people approximately. During the olden times when television was not popular people in Udupi, the town people tried not to miss the classic movie screenings in Local film exhibitions like Smriti. Such events made the movie talkies not just a place to go and watch a movie but also places of interaction. Today they impart nostalgia. There are also in-numerable memories like for a few it was bunking classes during their college to watch a movie and many others a weekend get-away with family to see the latest regional movie. Men selling roasted grams, peanuts and balloons would be the common scene outside the premises of this prestigious talkie. Talkies during the 1970s used to screen famous movies in a series called ‘Smriti’. This series also had a special segment for the children. As a child or an adult everyone waited for Smriti to watch their favourite movie and thus movie theatres soon became a regular family outing and recreational hub. Smriti was no longer an event but a celebration of good cinema. Be it when talkies were introduced or the 1970s when ‘Smriti’ was a rage. Talkies continue to host the likes of many till date. Last year when the regional language movie ‘Girgit’ was screened, all shows since the release were houseful. People stood for hours to buy tickets. Watching their colloquial language movie in their favourite movie talkie would have been a great experience for them. Coming to the character of the building of the old movie talkies; have you ever thought of what makes these buildings appear unique and attractive? Yes, it’s the architecture behind it. Unique building features like large ‘jalis’ (perforated design openings) and windows. Distinctive characters like the window balcony or horizontal bands on the buildings’ facade which is almost a transition from a residential architecture to a recreational building. These buildings began defining modernism in Udupi. Still if we try to search for an Art deco building in Udupi, movie theatres would be the best example. Rather than the function as movie theatres, these buildings hold certain social and historical relevance too. The recreational value of these buildings and their surroundings highlights the role they play as social gathering spaces and regarding the heritage rather than other historical buildings, they speak for a different style of architecture and function. Due to the current trend of multiplexes all the talkies are facing loss. But in a town like Udupi where people still depend upon talkies, definitely talkies can be maintained and function smoothly. With the rapid urbanisation and change of land uses, it’s obvious that there will be new multiplexes coming in the town and movie talkies would face more crisis. But the loss of such architectural buildings will completely erase a part of our building history from Udupi. They not only narrate the modernisation of the quaint temple town but also invoke nostalgia with the people. Cinema is changing fast. It no longer depends on projections within a built space but has moved to other digital platforms like Netflix, Hot-star, Amazon Prime and many more. Today’s cinema theatres do not have any form of “Cinema Architecture” that can hold a strong memory of place and space. With the loss of these spaces of by-gone eras, our cities will soon begin to lose a part of its ‘karizma’ and future generations will never know the concept and beauty of cinema architecture. Written by Sarmistha Chatterjee(faculty) and Madhuri Muralidharan (Student) Manipal School of Architecture and planning, MAHE
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