While Ciniplex and Atrium Cinemas have re-opened after a day’s closure, now full to the brim with moviegoers eager to watch the recently released Kareena Kapoor starrer Heroine, the city’s oldest cinemas show no signs of life.
Bambino Cinema is one of Karachi’s six charred movie theatres that tell the story of violent protestors rallying on Youm-e-Ishq, looting and burning property on a whim. But as the resilient and amnesic citizens of Karachi quickly put Friday’s madness behind them, Bambino is deathly silent.
Instead of the buttery smell of fresh popcorn and the chatter of excited moviegoers, the entrance hall of Bambino is fetid and empty. The sharp, sulphuric stink of burnt plastic hits the back of the throat, the metal grille installed as a security measure was warped by the heat and human hand, its gaping holes proof that bolt cutters were used. Posters of local and Indian films hang from the ceiling in tatters. The one item that has remained intact is a sign nailed to the door of the ticket booth that reads: authorised personnel and employees only.
While business has rapidly fallen since its golden years, owing to more sophisticated competitors, Bambino – which was once owned by Hakim Ali Zardari – prides itself on a rich history. Inaugurated by former president, Field Marshall Ayub Khan, in 1968, Bambino was home to the first 70mm projection screen in Pakistan, and was a hotspot for well-heeled young men and women in its heyday. But today, its owners lament a tragedy that did not spare even its thriving competitors on MA Jinnah Road. Its ground floor office and projection room have been completely destroyed, along with expensive equipment that was not insured.
“The mob burnt this place down five times,” said Bambino’s middle-aged air conditioning operator Nusrat, leading the way to the burnt staircase. He explained that he was present at the scene and had watched the police and firefighters put up a fight the first four times. “Goliyon aur dandon ke agay, kaun kya kar sakta hai?” How could anyone fight back against their bullets and batons?
On the first floor, the cinema’s canteen and storeroom are bare and badly damaged. Plastic crates that hold soft drinks have burnt and melted into one another. The canteen counter has been turned upside down and its locked fridge was smashed and pillaged. Bottle caps and shattered glass are the only hint of colour on a floor carpeted in black ash. It is obvious that equipment was stolen before the place was set alight.
“The LCDs and computers have been taken from my office,” cried owner Sheikh Adeel Imtiaz, recording the footage of the destruction on his handycam as pieces of glass crunched underfoot. “I saw the cinema ablaze on TV and tried to get here as fast as I could,” he added, explaining that his cinema had been closed due over security concerns since Monday.
Imtiaz admitted that he had no insurance. “We could not afford the cost,” he said. “We were doing record business but we never thought that someone would damage a cinema this badly.”
“It’s such a pity,” muttered Saeed Shiraz, a cinema marketer who arrived at Bambino after visiting the four other cinemas in the city that were also burnt down. “What will the paan and dry fruit vendors outside do now? Everyone’s business will be affected. Yahaan gharib hi gharib ka sab se bara dushman hai,” he said. The poor man is the poor man’s worst enemy.
Kaiser Yousuf, the owner of a small mobile booth on the ground floor of Bambino, said he suffered a loss of Rs1.4 million. “The protestors chucked the mobile phones out for the mob and burnt my shop down,” he said. “They may be celebrating their love for our Prophet (pbuh), but with the cinema, they burnt two copies of the Holy Quran,” he said, as his employer muttered “They took the name of the Prophet (pbuh) but did the work of the devil.”
Despite the considerable damage done to his cinema, Imtiaz is determined to rebuild, hoping to invest Rs30 million into projection and sound. But distributor Kamran Yar Khan from Tehulka Private Limited, who was hoping to collaborate with Imtiaz to revamp Bambino, said the government needs to step up. “As an association, we need to take a unified stand. What if this happens again?”
As the owner mourned his loss, he expressed his frustration at the law and order in the city and echoed the sentiments of many frustrated citizens: “There is always security for the embassies but none for the citizen.”
Cinemas of the past:
9 Alif Laila
30 Shah talkies
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2012.