Upon his demise, as one revisits the memories associated with Hakim Ali Zardari, and when one moves beyond his most obvious link to the masses, Bambino Cinema comes to mind. He is now gone, but how is the cinema he once owned faring?
Starting from the 1960s, for about two decades Bambino Cinema was the hub of mass entertainment during the golden days of Pakistani cinema. The first Pakistani cinema to be equipped with a 70mm screen, there were always throngs of cinema-goers at the premises. Unfortunately, undone by competition from other cinemas that are technologically more advanced, Bambino Cinema is about to close down in a couple of months.
“Frankly speaking, I surrender as a cinema owner. Cinema is no longer a feasible business, at least in the niche that Bambino had. Another added factor is that Saddar is no longer the centre of the city,” Sheikh Adeel Imtiaz, the owner of Bambino Cinema told The Express Tribune.
Once upon a time, Bambino Cinema was not just a cinema. It was a building with a lot of presence, and its billboards were the highlight of Sir Aga Khan III Road, grabbing everyone’s attention while they waited for the traffic signals to turn green.
“My target audience doesn’t have the necessary buying power anymore. Nothing seems to work due to Bambino’s location; despite the fact that I revamped the entire cinema, including the seating and flooring, people just don’t show up,” said Imtiaz, while elaborating on his sudden plan to shut down.
Imtiaz, who is running an old Punjabi film, Ziddi Badmash, on his screen these days, revealed even bigger reasons to shut down the cinema.
“For the past two years, the distributors are only giving Indian films to the cinemas on main MA Jinnah Road due to the lack of copies. Although I did screen Dabangg and Golmaal, I had to go out of the way and talk to the distributor and only then did he bless me with one film, but this cannot be done regularly,” said Imtiaz.
Imtiaz further said that last year only 12 Pakistani films were made, while 33 Indian films were released in the country. Thus, it is impossible to run a cinema with only Pakistani films, and he felt this was the time to make the right choice.
A big supporter of bringing Indian films to Pakistan, Imtiaz even tried screening the Salman Khan super hit Wanted again, but the first show generated the dismally low business of Rs300.
“Earlier, the busiest show slot was 9-12 pm, a time that suited families who wanted to come together to the movies. Today, however, the busiest slot is 3-6 pm, when men who have nothing to do or are just done with work show up, and that was never the audience of Bambino cinema,” said Imtiaz.
The cinema that screened epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones, and whose audience included dignitaries like General Ayub Khan, will be converted into a mall after it closes down.
Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, who started off selling tea at Bambino cinema, and is now a lineman at Nishat cinema, recalls the golden days of Bambino Cinema.
“Bambino Cinema was the first cinema with double balcony seating, and the way people used to gather outside Bambino was very pleasing for me,” Baloch told The Express Tribune.
“When I used to work at Bambino, Hakim Ali Zardari, who was my boss back then, used to live on the sixth floor of Bambino Chambers. I was part and parcel of their family, and the queues around Bambino were cause of a sigh of relief for all of them.
“In the golden days of Bambino Cinema, Asif Ali Zardari was in Cadet College, Petaro. Later, he used to study at some college in Soldier Bazaar, and often used to come to the cinema with his friends. But after he married Benazir Bhutto, the protocol he got was very elaborate and the family was not easily accessible,” said Baloch, who never saw the Zardari family there again.
After Rio and Rex cinema, to name a few, the conversion of Bambino Cinema into a shopping mall will be another great loss to Karachi. However, with consumer needs so well defined, and technology improving constantly, the bigger question is how the other cinema halls will cope: Will they adapt or face the same fate?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2011.