Prashant Somosundram needed a break. It was 2018, and at 39, his major entrepreneurial achievement was having founded Artistry, a gallery, cafe and community space on the edge of Kampong Glam. From its inception in 2012, Artistry was beloved by artists, activists and writers, and hosted a melange of activities weekly, from spoken word performances showcasing unheralded poets, to out-of-classroom jams for Kazakh Masters students at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Prashant had also started double-hatting as event organiser and food operator at The Projector, an indie cinema in Golden Mile Tower. Only four years old, its old-world seats, dramatic inclines and arthouse-offbeat curation had earned it a cult following among silver screen romantics and those whose cultural palates were allergic to Marvel. Karen and Sharon Tan, the sisters who founded The Projector (along with Blaise Trigg-Smith), had seen Prashant’s work at Artistry, and asked if he’d like to operate the Golden Bar (later Intermission Bar) as a tenant. Karen described him to me as “...a kindred spirit that actually knows how to get shit done.”

But with the burden of two jobs, and Artistry more loved than busy, Prashant decided to close the café. The break he had planned was a journey from China to Iran that would have been more mid-life reset and exploration than recuperation. Before he could leave, however, The Projector acquired the Intermission Bar, forcing him to delay his trip. Then Sharon asked if he wanted to replace her as general manager (GM). “I never got to go on that trip…she went on her own trip instead.”

Prashant and Sharon laughed as he narrated this story to me at the Bullion Kopitiam over whisky highballs and pork satay. Prashant was sitting on a ledge facing the road, his Nikes dangling at the end of his dark-denim-covered legs. He pairs a deep, thoughtful gaze with an ability to lose himself in laughter, sometimes turning away, his gaze off in the distance, when reliving memories. People who know the Prashant of today—six-foot, salt-and-pepper bearded, and whose WhatsApp profile pic reads “Smokin’ hot meat” in neon—are shocked to see old photos of a chubby Prashant with skinny arms, described by a former physical education teacher as “feathers attached to the body of an elephant.”

The two trade stories of Prashant’s early culinary achievements. Sharon first met Prashant at Artistry after her dad had ordered a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with a huge scoop of vanilla ice-cream. “If only you knew how much butter went into that,” Prashant deadpanned.

Another story involved innovation at Red Baron, a place he co-founded after Artistry with Tham Wai Hon, the person who would later become his partner. The kitchen came up with a “fried quinoa”, a seemingly refined version of Singaporean fried rice. “It was not very healthy, but you’d get these women coming in after yoga, eating it, and then posting photos with the hashtag ‘healthyliving’,” he said. “Coconut oil. That’s how we sold it.”

These stories bookmark early ventures, yet surely the accumulated experiences helped feed his confidence in assuming the GM role. By juggling the different arms of the business—events, F&B, and film—revenues grew. January 2020 was The Projector’s best-ever month.

And then the world changed. “We had one good year before Covid came. It’s been a struggle ever since.” By June 2023, long after the last pandemic-related restrictions had been lifted in Singapore, The Projector’s film revenues (at two outlets) were still 25 percent lower than in the pre-Covid days (at one outlet). This overall decline, Prashant said, is broadly in line with the industry at large. He’s tried hard to diversify its revenue streams, including by renting out its centrally located and funky event spaces. On any given week The Projector might host everything from government agency events and corporate movie nights to queer parties and migrant worker art exhibits.

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