Amidst the gloom that has engulfed Chennai theatres in the wake of COVID-19 has come the loss of the iconic Shanti theatre complex, run by the family of legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan.
It will exist no more as a theatre but has been converted into an office complex on arterial Anna Salai. On the road earlier called Mount Road, Sivaji Ganesan’s theatre was a landmark — a tourist attraction.
Shanti theatre was built by G Umapathy and D Shanmuga Raja in January 1961, and was later bought by Sivaji Ganesan. The theatre, which has been in existence for nearly six decades, screened several important films, not only of Sivaji but also other actors.
More than the audience for movies, the complex was a must-visit for every visitor to Chennai. The compound wall had a list of all the films screened there so far, and the number of days it ran. Fans of Sivaji used to take pictures with the theatre in the background.
With dwindling revenues and drop in footfall, and the passing away of Sivaji Ganesan himself in 2001, the family struggled to maintain the theatre in memory of Sivaji Ganesan. After all, Sivaji, a colossus of south Indian cinema during that period, had acted in films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi, and was known throughout the country and abroad too. His family members tried their best to keep alive the tradition of running the theatre. However, the slump in revenue of theatres across the state led to a situation where the business was no longer viable.
The family members discussed various options including a multiplex concept, an office complex with at least a mini-theatre to keep the memory of Shanti theatre alive, but “rules and regulations for a theatre were found too cumbersome, with various restrictions for parking, eatery etc, coming in the way,” said Ramkumar, the eldest son of Sivaji Ganesan.
Prabhu, his brother, pointed out that it was a big family, and each one had ideas of his or her own. “Enga kudumbam romba perisu, pillai kuttigalo pathu dinusu (Ours was a big family, the children were of diverse nature — lines from an old song of a Sivaji starrer).”
The younger generation was looking at various business options and did not want to be confined to the theatre business, the family members said.
Finally, a workable formula was arrived at in a joint venture with Akshaya Pvt Ltd, a real estate developer, to come up with Akshaya Shanti Office Suites being offered, with 86,783 sq. ft of office space for lease or sale, along with a built-in restaurant and gymnasium, with 4,535 ft of terrace gardens, said T Chitty Babu, Chairman and CEO of Akshaya Pvt Ltd. It was an offer that the family finally found viable.
“The building with six floors of office space is impressive but catches the eye is the lobby. We have meticulously conceptualized the design, to make sure that nostalgic memories of Dr Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan are felt as soon as one enters the premises – right at the lobby,” he said.
Several pictures of Sivaji Ganesan adorn the lobby, with information about some of the awards that came his way and the hit films.
The family of the thespian has decided to move on.
The bus stop on arterial Anna Salai was called the Shanti Bus Stop on account of the theatre. Will it continue to be called so, a few years down the line? Only time can tell.