Photos by Sriram Narasimhan
At a time when there is extreme unrest among the film fraternity in Kollywood, with producers squabbling with the DSPs, and among themselves, the theatres and the multiplexes in the city have resorted to screening old, popular hits in Tamil. Some bring back blockbusters of Vijay, Ajith or Rajini on screen while the others recall small movies that did not have much of an exhibition when they released [Azhagendra Sollukku Amudha, the run-time of which was cut short due to former CM J Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016, is back on screens this Friday].
A theatre that has remained serene amidst this chaos though, is the old screen at Batcha in Broadway, Chennai. For, at any time of the year, Batcha shows only old films. One of the few reel theatres in the city, the proprietor, in an interview with The Hindu, reveals that he doesn’t run the theatre for profit. The tickets cost around Rs 20, and he cannot quite afford to buy new films from distributors.
Currently aged 102, with peeling wall paint and fresh posters of old films adorning its walls, Batcha Theatre – previously Minerva – gives off a very old world charm, something that history enthusiasts would most enjoy.
The theatre has a rice warehouse on the ground floor while the first floor is reserved for showcasing films. With 294 seats, Batcha’s audience mostly consists of daily-wage workers, and autorickshaw drivers. Around 15-20 tickets are sold everyday, we learn.
According to an article, Batcha Theatre, when it was named Minerva, had screened War And Peace at the lowest temperature to ensure that the audience felt the coldness as set in the film.
Acquired by SM Batcha a decade ago, the theatre now screens mostly old films right from those starring MGR and Jayalalithaa. Currently, it is screening Sarathkumar’s 1991 film Kaaval Nilayam, and Kumari Kottam (1971) starring MGR and Jayalalithaa in a dual role.