Cathedrals of Ecstasy

Cathedrals of Ecstasy

H&C south india map


Spaces almost always play a special role in determining the culture of a people. Whether it be in living spaces, storied spaces, performance spaces, the way a space is created and treated determines certain habitual roles of man and how they are perceived by a people. Their search of such spaces brought Hole & Corner to India. For their Performance issue, they travelled with kamalan to the cities of Madurai and Chennai to observe and document the erstwhile spaces of joy and merriment, movie theatres of decades ago, now lying forlorn and decrepit. 
  • History & Architecture




Having already travelled with Hole & Corner once, we spoke with Sam Walton, the editor, about documenting disused movie theatres and the idea having intrigued him, he soon contacted Anthony Cotsifas, who was equally enthusiastic about exploring this concept. After a few exchanges, we realised that the idea of looking at disused movie theatres in the current day resonated strong with all of us, and soon a journey to southern India was planned.

A people with deep roots in entertainment, movie theatres symbolised the coming of an age of greater accessibility to modern forms of entertainment. These spaces were, thus, created keeping in mind the sensibilities and bonds the people have for movies, with great stress on the modern aspect.

Our journey began in the millenary city of Madurai, where we were greeted by our local guide Shiva. After a long day of travelling, we decided to enthral ourselves at the temple ceremony in the evening, great anticipation for the following days birthing butterflies in our stomachs. We visited several old theatres, some still in use, each with distinctive facades, both on the exterior and the interior. The grand Midlaand Theatre, unassuming beige from the outside, bright yellow on the inside, lay defunct, in its heyday seating 1200.

While driving around the city, we came across an interesting façade, but the theatre wasn’t on the list we had compiled. Joseph, our Madurai maestro, performed his magic, found out who the owner was and within a couple of hours, we were inside the theatre. It was completely devoid of chairs, and we discovered that it was once the largest theatre in Madurai, seating 1700. Lakshmi Touring Talkies, another one of the old ones in Madurai, was built completely out of bamboo, and it even had the remnants of the screen used, which had unfortunately been removed just days before we visited it. Photographing these storied halls, Anthony kept it as natural as the conditions would allow him, barely using artificial lighting, instead using all hands-on deck to manipulate the light streaming in through decrepit doors and windows.


Then we travelled to Chennai, pausing at the white expanses of the salt flats of Mahabalipuram on the way. Another haven of theatres, we encountered minimalist facades in shades of blue, red, green, and yellow, commanding examples of the concrete revolution. The Srinivasa Theatre stood out in its symmetrically curved walls, built more than half a century ago. One of the theatres we visited was even showing a picture, sparsely populated and interrupted by whistles and catcalls.

We discovered the two theatres of Albert and Baby Albert, very old projectors lying in nostalgia, and the Casino Theatre, not just one of the oldest theatres in Chennai, but also one still in use. One of the theatres we came across still stands out in our memories with its curious embellishment of fish, scales, and shells along the walls.

Before long, we had to depart from this interesting landscape, carrying back with us tokens of histories. The brightly decorated facades leaving a strong imprint, the cries of the locals a hearkening reminder of the enthusiasm that takes over.

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