From access to seats, cinema halls in Kerala are hardly suitable for the disabled
A discussion of disability-friendly theaters took place after Paresh Palicha, a film critic with cerebral palsy, wrote about his experience with a Kochi movie house.
Ever since he was little, Paresh Palicha, a familiar face among Kerala film circles, used to be transported to cinema halls where he would go to watch movies. At first, it was his dad, who lifted the boy with cerebral palsy up the steps and stairs of theaters in Kochi. Later, his friends and family members also joined him in taking Paresh up and down the stairs of movie theaters, as he became an active film critic, visiting theaters every week or so. But even after the cinemas underwent multiple renovations and announced themselves to be state-of-the-art, Paresh was disheartened to find that only a few were adapted for the disabled. Despite the laws in place, few cinemas in Kerala have the necessary facilities to make the space accessible to people with disabilities.
“It’s not just in Kerala, most theaters across the country are not handicap friendly. But the Persons with Disabilities Rights Act (RPD), 2016, asserts that all places used by the general public – including private spaces used by the public – should be accessible to everyone. This includes entertainment venues, banks, parks, theaters, etc. explains Muralidharan, secretary general of the National Platform for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (NPRD).
It was in the last decade that most movie theaters across the state began renovations, transforming into multiplexes. Some of them have added ramps and lifts. SL Theaters in Thiruvananthapuram which had four different screens reopened with six screens in 2015 as AriesPlex Cinemas. It has a ramp and an elevator that allows people in wheelchairs to cross. Some theater complexes have ramps on the ground floor, but do not have elevators or means to access upper floors.
Ramps and lifts are available at Aries Plex, Thiruvananthapuram
Gireesh, 50-year-old owner of the Sri Padmanabha Theater in Thiruvananthapuram, says the ground floor rooms are wheelchair friendly, but not on the balcony. There is room to park the wheelchair, he said. “We also have a makeshift ramp that can be placed at the front of the theater if someone requests it. Unfortunately, there is no way to access the second floor for a physically disabled person, without the help of others. It is difficult for old theaters, with old-fashioned structures, to provide for this. However, we will definitely consider it for future renovations,” says Gireesh.
Paresh, who visited the theaters of Thiruvananthapuram during the last International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), as a member of the jury which selected the world cinema, wrote positively about the volunteers who helped him move between theaters. However, back in his hometown of Kochi, he was disappointed to find that the Shenoys Theatre, which he had frequented since childhood, had not been adapted for the disabled despite a recent overhaul. A refurbished Shenoys now has five screens, but no ramps, elevators 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’ve been going there since I was a kid, my dad lifting and carrying me. The Shenoys is the biggest theater I’ve seen in my life and I’ve seen a lot of it – going to theaters in Mumbai and Bengaluru. But when I posted my query they said it’s 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 movie theater into a five-screen theater without breaking the interiors? It’s full of steps and stairs everywhere, to every screen,” says Paresh.
I had posted this request on the Shenoys Cinema page a few days ago… I’m still waiting for a positive response from…
Posted by Paresh Palicha on Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Seema Lal, a specialist educator and activist for people with disabilities, took up Paresh’s cause with the authorities. “We thought about going to the theater and seeing if they have another arrangement. They didn’t, there are too many steps everywhere. Most other theaters have at least one wheelchair-friendly entrance in the back, but there was nothing like this at Shenoys. We wrote to the mayor and tagged the social justice department. We also spoke to Suresh, the theater owner. They said permission had been given by the Kochi company to renovate without having to include a ramp in the design. But we didn’t want to shut it down or anything, we’re just saying let’s have an open discussion and find a solution together,” Seema says.
When TNM contacted Suresh, he said there were no special plans to include disability-friendly features. However, theater staff are always available for personal assistance, he added.
“If people with disabilities ask for help, our staff are there to help them sit up and get back. When we recently renovated the theatre, ramps were not required (by the Kochi company). There are too many stairs and it is not possible to build ramps for all of them. We don’t have an immediate renovation planned, we just had the last one a year ago,” says Suresh.
Renovated Shenoys Theater in Kochi
Albert, the director in charge when TNM visited the theatre, says that when people with disabilities come to see movies, they always get priority. “Our staff will help them settle into their respective places and address any other concerns they may have,” he said.
Even the Padma Theatre, just over 500m from Shenoys, doesn’t fare much better in this regard. Padma also has no ramps, escalators or other such facilities to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and instead places the responsibility on the staff to assist them.
The nearby Sarita Savita Sangeeta theater complex has a ramp and elevator, but it also has its share of limitations, as physically handicapped audiences there too are dependent on employees to help them enter the theater. movie theater. However, discussions are underway to make the resort accessible to people with disabilities, says Resort Manager Sethunath. “We frequently have disabled visitors here,” he says, pointing to a disabled tricycle parked in front of the Savita Theatre. “We already have ramps and lifts in place. But we have received advice from the Cochin Corporation regarding making cinema more accessible, and we are currently discussing how to proceed,” he adds.
The access ramp to the Sarita Theater in Kochi
The mayor had been open when Seema reached out, she said. However, nothing has come to fruition yet. Muralidharan, who accompanied Seema for the meeting, says it is a violation of the law if theaters do not follow the provisions of the DPR law. Those with complaints can contact the state Disability Commissioner. “There are also special tribunals, set up to deal with the grievances of people with disabilities in each state,” he adds.
Paresh is of course not alone in his fight. People with disabilities have faced these problems in all public places. His fate in the theaters is all the more impactful as it affects his job as a film critic.
In June, a group of mothers of disabled children decided to take their wards to a cinema in Thrissur for the experience of watching a movie on the big screen. Jasmine Anwar posted a photo and wrote on children’s day. “Many of us mothers wonder if it will be a problem if we go to the cinema with our children. This is because some children make sounds and some of them cannot sit still and we let’s worry if it will bother others in the theater. But these kids also want to watch movies, right? So we took a chance one day and succeeded,” Jasmine wrote in her post.
She adds, however, that although the theater staff helped children get in and out of the venue, it was sad to see that the theaters were not handicapped accessible.
Unni Maxx, a wheelchair-bound activist, says that although theaters are equipped with disability-friendly devices like ramps, easy access to seats inside is not guaranteed. “He is hardly present in any of the theaters in Kerala. I went to Aashirvad cinemas in Thodupuzha (from Idukki), excited about the ramps and the wheelchair-friendly toilets. But you can at best reach the front of the screen on your own. To access any seat in the back rows you will need someone’s help as there will be steps. Staff will need to lift you from there. It’s the same story in most movie theaters, except for some malls like Lulu in Kochi, where you can enter from the back of the hall,” says Unni.
Suraj, duty manager at Lulu’s PVR, says the entire back row of the complex’s nine auditoriums are wheelchair accessible. “If they want to use one of the seats in the other rows, the staff will help them. Toilets are also easily accessible,” he says.
Disabled-friendly seating should be present inside theaters, and disabled access inside and outside the theater should also be available, says Vijayakumar, president of the Film Exhibitors United Organization of Kerala. “New theaters have these facilities, and old ones that are being renovated should have them. These are the laws,” he says.
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