Escape Cinemas Chennai, India. By Integrated Lighting Design

Back in the mid 20th Century movie theaters were adorned with glittering marquee lights running along the façade and interiors creating a pattern in itself, neon lights in flamboyant colors, brightly sparkling heavily ornamented decorative pendants glowing vehemently and wall paneling and finishes with jazzy materials that added to the art deco romantic ambience.

At that point in time, movies were all about Hollywood decadence that was depicted ostentatiously in the movie theaters’ ambience. It was all about the “Wow effect”.

With the advent of the idea of multiplexes, it was about packaging it in the most economical way possible. Multiplexes became the notorious black boxes with template designs with simple typical finishes and movie theater space is done uniformly with decorative wall sconces and darker finishes.

An entrepreneur wanted to bring back the romantic era of movie theaters in contemporary way. The conventional “black box” approach was changed by thinking in the lines of uniquely applying a hospitality touch to the multiplex to conceptualize luxury with elegance and refinement. The idea was to offer the visitors a visual treat and variety for them to enjoy the experience. Planning amenities and features around the usual spaces with special material finishes and spatial definition with meticulous detail was their approach. Lighting is an important tool through which the iconic image was established for their spaces and hence defining the corporate brand identity.

Lighting was perceived to accentuate, delineate and soften the spatial structure rather than just illuminate. It was to provide visual and emotional cues to attract viewers to features and guide them along the space. Lighting image was designed in such a way that the designed visual ambience was automatically visually zoned as public, semi-public and private. Varieties of lighting layers were thought about to create visual depth in the space. In lofty spaces, such as lobby and theater space, more of vertical surfaces were illuminated and ceiling was lightened to tame the scale of the space. Warmth and quietness were translated in light.


Lobby is conceptualized to have more of material and feature accenting and light level being applied with more of visual contrast to accentuate features hence more than the brightness or intensity of light, more layers of lights were introduced that enhanced the quality of the space. Lighting ambience was worked out with warmer tones to supplement the finishes of the warm yellow onyx panel and wood finish, hence providing the hospitality feel to the space.


Entrance to the multiplex lobby is from a brightly sky lit space in the mall area. Visitors are made to visually transition to a relatively lower light levels but with high contrast in the multiplex lobby which will help them further the transition to the darker movie theater space. Lobby has to handle high traffic hence spatial interest points with vistas with adequate lighting punch were considered in design.

Ceiling of the lobby was to be lightened as it is a double height space and the loftiness is softened by the floating ceiling effect provided by the linear fluorescent peripheral cove. Metal halide recessed downlights provide the adequate punch and have been just adequately used. Built elements have been lightened up into features to provide visual interest. Onyx clad columns and ticket counters have been backlit with fluorescent strip to bring them in focus and intensify the warmth through the color and interesting texture of the onyx. They also make the space appear lighter where there are massive columns, lofty spatial scale and dark veneer finishes. Glass shelves are accented with floor recessed LED uplights making them appear like jewel.

Rectangular proportions of the interior surfaces are also translated in the lighting concepts as seen in the onyx clad column and lighted ceiling coffers in the lounge, library, internet kiosk and spa area.

The important technical constraint was the state of the art suspended ceiling hung movie projectors were installed in the lobby that projected movie into the theater area. It was very crucial for the light from the coves not to bleed and interfere with the movie projection. Part of the light cove right above this projector had to be removed due to this constraint.


Onyx clad entry/exit portal effect is an interesting vertical lighting layer adding visual focus. This also occurs on the outer face of the same wall marking entry point in a similar way. Taking into account the LCD advertisement monitors was important to preserve visual contrast by not letting light bleed on to the monitors.

Lobby adjacent to public toilets

The lobby area adjacent to the public toilets has niches in the backwall that has been adorned with glowing candle like object. Recessed uplights have been incorporated in the side wooden boxing to uplight the waterfall in the stonewall

Lounge – Library area

The lounge areas are semi-private areas and are treated with lower level of lighting to make the ambience quieter than the lobby. They are categorized into library, Internet kiosk and smoker’s lounge. Rectangular proportions of coffers lit up with warm white linear fluorescent strips continue the spatial language of the space and indirect lighting provides quiet ambience. Selective accenting of features with recessed MR16 adjustable accents enhances the ambience further.

Lounge – Library

Lounge – Internet Kiosk


Spa is done primarily with similar proportioned minimal indirect lighting with linear fluorescent cove at the coffers and minimal feature accenting with recessed MR16 adjustable accent. Keeping the light levels fairly low adjusted by dimming setting provides relaxing ambience. Different scenes were set to adjust the light intensity to suit the task performed. Spa is treated as a completely private space and lighting has been zoned accordingly with its low levels.

Toilets – Female

Unconventional approach was applied to the toilets by designing a dramatic ambience with dark materials and higher contrast in lighting. Glass water feature in the wash area is powerfully grazed with concealed linear LED grazer enabling the etching in the glass to glow profusely. WC area has a pinspot that lights a very small-pebbled landscape area.

Male toilet Urinal are

Movie theater space

Variety in application was the central idea in the way movie screens were treated. Each theater space was to have a different interior theme and corresponding lighting design scheme. Sidewalls and the ceiling offered endless medley of possibilities for providing rich sensory experience. Coordinating the technicalities of lighting, interior design and acoustics was very important. Also, while designing light features and accents, it was vital to consider the position of the projection portholes and proximity to the screen that was critical for movie projection. Thinking ‘out of the box’ was required to make the box like theater space a point of visual enrichment.

There are a total of 8 screens and each of the screens has a unique theme both in interior design and lighting. Two screens were planned in a very classic approach and all the rest were contemporary design themes.

The ones with classic ambience was all about rich upholstery with ceiling recessed adjustable accents washing the wall finish with vintage scallop effect and sparkling decorative pendants and wall sconces bring back the art deco ambience

Theater – Blush

Theater – Spot

The theme Spot is a series of halo produced by the surface mounted buttons with concealed LED strips providing an indirect glow that gives the effect. It was a huge challenge in achieving similar looking halo on all of the buttons. Precision in execution was the key to the effect. Indirect fluorescent lighting to the perforated dropped ceiling provides a floating ceiling effect.

Theater – Frame

Frame Theater was an art gallery theme. Ceiling recessed adjustable accents highlighting the artwork.

Theater – Streak

The theme Streak is all about linear lines. Linear lines framing the space to provide the portal like spatial enclosure. It is a minimal contemporary approach to treat a space. The space is completely characterized by lighting design. The step lights are also in a linear style further intensifying the effect.

Theater – Kites

Kites theme has a lot of warmer toned kites mounted in patterns on the wall. Ceiling recessed adjustable accents were adjusted to graze the kites in different ways so that the light and shadow around the kites are dramatic. Backlight of the kite patterned perforated ceiling is done with linear fluorescent strips that indirectly lets the ceiling glow.

Owner: Sathyam Cinemas
Interior Designers: Giovanni Castor and Vikram Phadke
Lighting Design: Anusha Muthusubramanian, Integrated Lighting Design
Photographer: Sunder Ram

Anusha Muthusubramanian
Lighting Designer
Integrated Lighting Design

B.Arch – National Institute of Technology Trichirappalli
MA – Architectural lighting design – University of Wismar, Germany
Design Member, Professional Lighting Designers Association PLDA
Associate Member, International Association of Lighting Designers IALD

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