A discussion on disabled-friendly theatres came up after Paresh Palicha, a movie critic with cerebral palsy, wrote about his experience with a Kochi cinema house.

Paresh Palicha in a wheelchair in front of EVM Cinema Paresh Palicha at EVM Cinema, Fort Kochi
Features DISABILITY RIGHTS Monday, June 27, 2022 - 17:17

From the time he was little, Paresh Palicha, a familiar face among the movie circles of Kerala, used to be carried up to the movie theatres he went to watch films at. At first it was his Papa, lifting the boy with cerebral palsy through the steps and stairs of the theatres in Kochi. Later, his friends and family members too joined in taking Paresh up flights of stairs of film houses, as he grew up into an active movie critic, visiting theatres every week or so. But even after film theatres underwent multiple renovations and announced themselves state-of-the-art, Paresh was dejected to find that only a few were disabled-friendly. Despite laws in place, few cinema houses in Kerala have the facilities to make the space accessible for the disabled.

“It is not only in Kerala, most theatres across the country are not disabled-friendly. But the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (RPD) Act, 2016, says that all places used by the public in general – including private spaces used by the public – should be accessible to all. That includes places of entertainment, banks, parks, theatres etc,” says Muralidharan, general secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD).

It is in the last decade that most film theatres across the state began renovations, turning themselves into multiplexes. Some of them added ramps and elevators. The SL Theatres in Thiruvananthapuram, which had four different screens, reopened with six screens in 2015 as AriesPlex Cinemas. It has a ramp and a lift that allows people in wheelchairs to traverse. Some theatre complexes have ramps on the ground floor, but have no elevators or ways to access the upper floors.


Ramps and elevators are available at Aries Plex, Thiruvananthapuram

Gireesh, owner of the 50-year-old Sri Padmanabha Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram, says that the halls in the ground floor are wheelchair-friendly, but not in the balcony. There is space to park the wheelchair, he says. “We also have a make-shift ramp that can be placed at the front of the theatre if anyone asks for it. Unfortunately, there is no way to access the second floor for a person with physical disability, without the help of others. It is difficult for old theatres, with old fashioned structures, to create provision for it. However, we will definitely consider it for future renovations,” says Gireesh.

Paresh, who visited theatres in Thiruvananthapuram during the last International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), as a member of the jury which selected World Cinema, wrote positively about the volunteers who helped him move between movie halls. However, back in his hometown of Kochi, he was disappointed to find that the Shenoys Theatre, which he had frequented since his childhood, did not make itself disabled-friendly despite a recent revamp. A renovated Shenoys now has five screens, but no ramps, lifts or wheelchair-accessible seats.

“I had posted a query on their Facebook page when they reopened after renovations in February 2021, asking if it was wheelchair friendly. They all know me very well since I have been going there since I was a child, my papa lifting me up and carrying me. The Shenoys is the biggest theatre I have seen in my life and I have been around many – going to theatres in Mumbai and Bengaluru. But when I posted my query, they said it was not wheelchair friendly. The excuse they gave is that they just did a little renovation and not much else. But how can you convert a single big screen theatre into one with five screens without breaking the interiors? It is full of steps and stairs everywhere, to every screen,” Paresh says.

 

 

I had posted this query in Shenoys Cinema page a few days back... I am still waiting for positive response from...

Posted by Paresh Palicha on Wednesday, 10 February 2021

 

Seema Lal, special educator and activist working among people with disability, took up Paresh’s cause with the authorities. “We thought let’s go to the theatre and see if they have an alternate arrangement. They didn’t, there are too many steps everywhere. Most other theatres at least have a wheelchair-friendly entrance at the back, but there was nothing of the sort in Shenoys. We wrote to the Mayor and tagged the Social Justice Department. We also spoke to Suresh, the owner of the theatre. They said that permission was given by the Kochi corporation to renovate without having to include a ramp in the design. But we didn’t want to close it down or anything, we are just saying let’s have an open discussion and find a solution together,” Seema says.

When TNM contacted Suresh, he said that there was no special plan to include any disabled-friendly features. However, the staff of the theatre are always available for personal assistance, he added.

“If people with disabilities ask for help, our staff are there to help them to their seats and back. When we had a renovation at the theatre recently, ramps were not insisted (by the Kochi corporation). There are too many staircases, and building ramps for all of them are not feasible. We have no plans for an immediate renovation, we just had the last one a year ago,” Suresh says.


Renovated Shenoys Theatre in Kochi

Albert, the manager in charge when TNM visited the theatre, says that when people with disabilities come to watch films, they are always given priority. “Our staff will help them to their respective seats and cater to any other concern they might be facing,” he says.

Even the Padma Theatre, located just over 500 m away from Shenoys, does not fare much better in this regard. Padma too does not have ramps, escalators or other such facilities to cater to people with disabilities, and instead places the onus on the staff to help them. 

The nearby Sarita Savita Sangeeta theatre complex has a ramp and a llift but it too has its share of limitations, as audiences with bodily disabilities are, here too, dependent upon the employees to help them enter the cinema hall. However, discussions are underway to make the complex disabled-friendly, says Sethunath, manager of the complex. “We frequently get visitors with disabilities here,” he says, pointing to a tricycle for a person with disability parked in front of the Savita theatre. “We already have ramps and lifts in place. But we did receive the notice from the Cochin Corporation regarding making the cinema more accessible, and we are currently discussing how to go about it,” he adds. 


The ramp to Sarita Theatre in Kochi

The Mayor had been forthcoming when Seema reached out, she says. However, nothing has panned out yet. Muralidharan, who accompanied Seema for the meeting, says that it is a violation of law if theatres are not following the provisions of the RPD Act. Those who have complaints may approach the state disability commissioner. “There are special courts too, set up for the purpose of addressing grievances of persons with disabilities in every state,” he adds.

Paresh is of course not alone in his fight. People with disabilities have been facing these problems at all public places. His plight in theatres is just more impactful since it affects his profession as a movie reviewer.

In June, a group of mothers of children with disabilities, decided to take their wards to a movie theatre in Thrissur to give them the experience of watching a film on a big screen. Jasmine Anwar posted a photo and wrote about the children’s day out. “Several of us mothers wonder, will it be a problem if we go with our children to the movies. That is because some of the children make sounds and some of them cannot sit still and we worry if it will disturb the others in the theatre. But these children also want to watch films, right? So we tried our luck one day, and made it happen,” Jasmine writes in her post.

She adds however that though the theatre staff helped the children in and out of the place, it was sad to see that the theatres were not accessible for the disabled.

Unni Maxx, an activist and wheelchair user, says even if theatres are equipped with disabled-friendly features like ramps, easy access to seats inside is not guaranteed. “It is hardly there in any of the theatres in Kerala. I went to the Aashirvad Cinemas in Thodupuzha (of Idukki), excited by the ramps and the wheelchair-friendly toilets. But you can at best reach up to the front of the screen on your own. To access any seat in the rows behind, you will need someone’s help as there will be steps. The staff will have to lift you up from there. It is the same story in most movie houses, except some malls like Lulu in Kochi, where you can enter through the back of the hall,” Unni says.

Suraj, duty manager at Lulu’s PVR, says that the entire last row of all nine auditoriums in the complex is wheelchair accessible. “If they want to use any of the seats in other rows, the staff will help them. The toilets are also easily accessible,” he says.

Disability-friendly seats should be there inside theatres, and access for persons with disabilities in and out of the movie house should also be available, says Vijayakumar, president of the Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala. “New theatres are coming up with these facilities, and the old ones which are getting renovated should have it. Those are the laws,” he says.

Also read: Locked, unused, unclean: The struggle to access a disabled-friendly toilet in Kerala

Topic tags,
Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.