As Iconic Apsara Theatre in Kozhikode rings down the curtain, nostalgia time for film lovers

The theatre was inaugurated on 8 August 1971 by yesteryear Malayalam actor Prem Nazir and actress Urvashi Sharadha.

ByArjun Ramachandran

Published Jun 04, 2023 | 12:00 PM Updated Jun 04, 2023 | 12:00 PM

Apsara Theatre was one of the biggest theatre in Kerala

On 29 May, social media was agog with the news that the iconic Apsara Theatre in Kerala’s Kozhikode was downing its shutters. When enquiries were made, the picture became clear.

The employees were indeed given a sudden notice about the curtain being rung down at the theatre. The family-owned cinema hall was shut down due to differences of among the members.

Coincidentally, the meaning of Thrishanku — starring Arjun Ashokan and Anna Ben — the last film to be screened in Apsara Theatre is “a crucial situation”.

The theatre ran houseful until recently and registered good collections for 2018 and Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum.

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First of its kind

An aerial view of Apsara theatre

An aerial view of Apsara theatre. (Supplied)

Kozhikode once had many single-screen theatres which were eventually closed down with the advent of multiplexes.

Davison, Pushpa, Blue Diamond and Sangam were closed forever. Meanwhile, Radha, Coronation, and Crown saw major renovation.

Nevertheless, with a huge hall that could accommodate over 1,000 people at once, Apsara Theatre withstood the competition for a long time.

In fact, it has been in existence for 51 years near the Kozhikode railway station. But now, it’s a thing of the past!

Apsara Theatre was inaugurated on 8 August 1971 by yesteryear Malayalam actor Prem Nazir and actress Urvashi Sharadha. The inaugural movie screened was Aabhijathyan (on 12 August). Directed by A Vincent, the film starred Madhu and Sharadha.

The theatre ushered in the modern era of movie-watching. Indeed, it was the first AC cinema hall in Kozhikode.

With second-class ticket prices at ₹1 and ₹2, it was bliss for the common man to watch films in an AC hall. But to get tickets from the cave-like ticket counters wasn’t an easy task.

It’s still not known who introduced the cave-like ticket counters in the theatres of Kerala. Some ticket counters were even half a kilometre long. When a film is released, these counters will be crowded and it gets tough to breathe in those caves.

‘Not a prime location’

The giant screen of Apsara had many admirers

The giant screen at Apsara Theatre had many admirers (Supplied)

According to GP Ramachandran, a noted film critic based in Kerala, getting a ticket in the second class was a tiresome affair as people had to stand for hours in long queues.

Ramachandran completed his college studies in Kozhikode. He recalled that the location was neither a prime location nor a busy place in 1971.

“Unlike today, it was surprising that a theatre was built in a location where there were no proper roads. Even the present railway link road didn’t exist when the cinema hall was built. The development came much after the existence of the theatre,” he explained.

A big hall and first-class seating

The Apsara Theatre had a huge hall with a large 70MM screen, and its first-class section flaunted stadium-like seating.

Sangam Theatre was also opened around the same time, but its seating was of normal type as can be seen in any auditorium.

The ticket charges at Apsara were different for 70MM and 35 MM projections. It was as follows:

An old Balcony ticket of Apsara theatre

An old Balcony ticket at Apsara theatre. (Supplied)

  • Balcony (Ramp Circle): ₹3.50/- (70MM Charges), ₹3.00/- (35MM Charges)
  • Upper Circle: ₹2.50/- (70MM Charges), ₹2.25/-(35MM Charges)
  • Middle Circle: ₹1.75/-(70MM Charges), ₹1.50/-(35MM Charges)
  • Lower Circle: ₹0.80/-(70MM Charges), ₹0.70/-(35MM Charges)

The theatre had 1,296 seats with a 62X30 curved screen. It also had a 6 Channel Stereophonic sound system and projection by an RCA photophone projector.

When it was opened, the theatre had five main speakers and 48 speakers.

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Art films screened

The Apsara Theatre is renowned for screening art films. The noon shows (12.30 pm) were booked by art filmmakers. “The time slot was particularly allocated for art films. However, film society screenings were held at Pushpa Theatre and Sangam,” Ramachandran said.

Davison theatre was located in Chintha Valappu area near Old Bus Stand and Palayam market.

Radha Theatre was located at SM Street, a popular hub in Kozhikode.

“These theatres were visited by regular audiences and they never screened art films. However, films of Bharathan and other noted filmmakers were screened in these popular theatres,” Ramachandran recollected.

Popular with youngsters

Apsara Theatre showed popular films

Apsara Theatre showed popular films. (Supplied)

The Apsara Theatre was popular among the youth in Kozhikode because it always screened popular films.

The theatre management picked films that had the potential to appeal to the audience.

Mammootty’s Aavanazhi (1996), Mohanlal’s Chithram (1988), Kilukkam (1991), Sphadikam (1995), Thommanum Makkalum (2005), Nerariyan CBI (2005), Mazhathullikilukkam (2002), and CID Moosa (2003) are some of the super hit films screened in the cinema hall over the years.

Shihas, a regular moviegoer at Apsara, has some good memories of the cinema hall.

According to him, Apsara always screened movies that achieved a cult status or were trending. For example, the Bollywood movie Gupt (1997) saw good collections at the Apsara Theatre.

The sound was upgraded to Dolby for this movie. “Soldier (1998), Kaho Na Pyaar hai (2000), Mission Kashmir (2000), and Mohabbatein (200) are some of the Hindi films which I watched at Apsara”, Shihas said.

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Closure of single screens

A recent ticket of Apsara theatre

Ramp Circle ticket at Apsara Theatre. (Supplied)

Industry insiders revealed that there is a rift in the family regarding the property where Apsara Theatre stands and a legal case is pending in the court.

The theatre won’t be functioning as before as the family wants to sell the property. None from the family is reachable to comment on the issue.

Several single-screen theatres in Kozhikode city and Kozhikode district were closed down in recent times.

According to a study published in the Global Media Journal by Sreesanth K, Kozhikode Taluk alone had 58 cinema theatres, including A, B and C centres in the past. However, 40 of them stopped exhibiting films.

Most of these cinema halls were replaced by commercial complexes and other establishments.

Movie watching patterns

The study also pointed to a shift in movie-watching patterns. The frequency of cinema-going differed between EP (elder participants) and YP (younger participants) from oral history accounts.

EP-12 (2018) states that “I visit theatres only when there’s a good film, it has good reviews and is good in all sense.”

This opinion was common among the oral accounts of most of the EPs, which highlights their selectivity towards watching a film in a theatre.

However, despite having some similarities with EPs in the frequency of movie-going, oral history accounts note that “companion’s influence” is an essential element that forces YPs to watch films in cinema halls.

Existing theatres in Kozhikode

PVR is expected to open operations in Lulu Mall, Kozhikode

PVR is expected to open operations in Lulu Mall, Kozhikode. (Supplied)

Meanwhile, new multiplexes have been set up in Kozhikode recently.

Radha Picture Palace is now run by Listin Stephen’s Magic Frames.

Coronation underwent a major renovation and has three screens now. It is run by ARC Cinemas.

Crown Theatre is also functioning well in the city.

Kairali-Sree Theatre underwent a major renovation and was opened after the Covid lockdown.

Mohanlal’s Aashirvad Cinemas has a multiplex in RP Mall and Cinepolis was opened recently in Galleria Mall.

Hi-lite Mall has its own brand of theatre — Palaxi Cinemas which is yet to be launched.

Similarly, PVR Cinemas is soon expected to begin its operations in the Lulu Mall.

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