India’s first beach drive-in theatre and an iconic Chennai landmark in the 1990s, Prarthana Beach-Drive-in theatre is all set to make way for a premium residential complex. 

Located on the scenic East Coast Road (ECR), Prarthana Beach-Drive-in theatre and restaurant complex was developed by N Devanathan in 1991 to provide an open air movie viewing experience. It also has an air-conditioned indoor version, Aradhana theatre, within its precincts.

City-based real estate developer Baashyaam Group seems to have acquired the property. The real estate company, known for its premium living spaces and luxury residences, has begun demolition activities of the existing structure. businessline visited the now defunct theatre complex.  “It will take at least 3-6 months for the project to take shape and it is going to be a huge residential complex,” said a person at the site.

Financial details of the deal are unknown. Baashyaam Group did not respond to an email sent by businessline, while a family member of Devanathan chose not to comment. 

Prarthana Beach-Drive-in theatre joins the list of single screen theatres that have been forced to shut operations after the Covid pandemic. “The theatre has not been functional for about four years,” a person working at the site said.

It joins the ranks of other prominent theatres and film studios in Chennai that have lately been converted into residential or commercial buildings. 

In 2020, the family members of veteran actor Sivaji Ganesan and real estate developer Akshaya Pvt Ltd announced the launch of ‘Akshaya Shanti’, a commercial office project converting the iconic Shanti Theatre in Mount Road. Legendary film production houses such as AVM Studios and Vijaya-Vauhini Studios have also given a portion of their property to towering residential complexes and shopping malls.

“It is yet another loss of a key landmark in Chennai. A lot of people have nostalgic memories of spending time watching movies in the open air. The theatre featured several Tamil films. It will be difficult to set up such drive-in theatres in the future,” said Ramesh Bala, an entertainment industry tracker.

Bala said a lot of single screen cinemas found it difficult to survive after the pandemic in the midst of competition from the growing number of multiplexes. For instance, Prarthana itself has several competitors in its vicinity, including a 16-screen Mayajaal Multiplex in ECR, besides Inox multiplex (8-screens) and Cinepolis ( 8-screens) in the adjacent Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR).

Prarthana had a 4,500 sq ft giant screen and dedicated bay for each car. Its elevated ramps offered a better viewing experience, some of the audiences recalled. There was also a 500-seater gallery for those who did not want to watch from inside their cars. 

Sridhar, a movie buff and banker, vividly recalls his fond memories of watching Mani Ratnam’s 2002 film Kannathil Muthamittal at Prarthana Beach-Drive-in theatre.

He said Prarthana had 7.30 pm and 10.30 pm shows only and family audiences would come to experience movies in the chill breeze and to relish the popular dosa varieties at the canteen.

“People would spread bedsheets and pillows and lie on the ground in front of the space allotted to their cars and watch movies. Kids would sit on top of their cars or use the open gallery to watch movies. It was great fun,” Sridhar recalled.