Despite its share of the bad and ugly, the year 2010 can still stand tall according to some, for it has as its claim to fame the launch of the first 3D cinema in the country.
Atrium Cinemas, the brainchild of Mandviwalla Entertainment and Regent Properties, opened its doors to a very excited Karachi in December 2010 — despite a major strike, the cinema was packed. While it’s true that a lot of people had already seen both Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which Atrium premiered with, the opportunity to see both movies in 3D was a different story altogether.
“Not everyone can afford to go abroad and watch movies in 3D”, said Adil Mandviwalla, son of Managing Director, Nadeem Manviwalla while talking to The Express Tribune.
The Mandviwalla’s seek to revive cinema culture in Pakistan. “Cinemas were big back in the day,” Aadil pointed out. “It was always house-full, but that soon changed.” People no longer wanted to go watch a movie in an unsafe area filled with ruffians marking their territory by spitting paan.
It all changed when Cineplex was launched at Sea View in 2003. The area was far more secure and unfortunately for my cousin and his friends, the cinema only admitted ‘families’. While it’s true that they started with rather old English films such as Braveheart, the cinema soon picked up. Karachiites were in love, booking tickets in advance and happily parting with their Rs350. There was no doubt that Cineplex served as a monopoly, despite its screens being a tad bit small.
According to Adil: “We needed a better outlet for our people, why should the cinema experience be any different in Pakistan?” With that in mind Atrium was launched with bigger screens, better sound quality and much more comfortable seats. As one moviegoer at Atrium said, “When the cinema opened, I admit I wasn’t the first person in. People told me it was better than the cinemas in Dubai, that their bathrooms were better than those at Sheraton Hotel and that they went just for the amazing popcorn. I took their feedback lightly but when I finally went, I was very impressed! I’ve converted and I don’t think I’ll ever go to Cineplex again.”
On the other hand, as a viewer at Cineplex pointed out:”This place is so much more convenient. It’s really close by. I’ve been to Atrium before to watch a 3D movie and I enjoyed myself but for a regular movie I’d rather go to Cineplex.” In fact, most present at the cinema pointed out that Cineplex had become a comfort zone for them, although that can certainly only be true for those living in nieghbouring localities.
With that, one gathers that Cineplex now relies quite heavily on the loyalty of their customers. Interestingly enough, the price of cinema tickets at Cineplex, despite its compact screens and seating, is greater than that offered at Atrium for standard cinema viewing. Unfortunately, a Cineplex official declined to answer when asked whether the viewership had increased or decreased since the Atrium launch.
The popcorn and drinks are more expensive at the Atrium, but Aadil points out that not only is the quantity at Atrium greater than that at Cineplex, but that the popcorn is also imported from the States (“Ohio”, he told me, when I asked him where exactly). The nachos are also from elsewhere and are packaged in Dubai. He told me that it is common for people to send their drivers just to get them caramel popcorn from the concession stand.
In addition, at Cineplex, infants are allowed to view movies free of charge whereas at Atrium they are charged the regular price, as per standard policy in other countries. Infants may create some disruption for the audience, Aadil justifies, so it only made sense to charge them. A policy, that’s fine by us.
Contrary to Cineplex, Atrium also allows men who are unaccompanied by women. The Atrium boasts of tight security with cameras installed to make monitoring easier.
Initially there were cases in which people insisted that they did not need 3D glasses because they already wore regular powered glasses or that they were equipped with sunglasses and that those would surely substitute the 3D glasses. Of course, later there were complaints about the poor quality of prints but “people have finally begun to get it and truly enjoy the technology”.
Aadil admits that there has generally been a decrease in viewership, possibly due to the nation’s recent preoccupation with the cricket world cup. However, he is optimistic about viewership returning to “80 and 90 per cent” because “the best movies come out in the summer months”. Surely, the new food court being developed on the same floor as the cinema is reason enough for crowds to get lured back.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2011.