It seems that only our grandparents will now remember why Karachi was christened the City of Lights. The beautifully adorned billboards on main Bandar Road and Keamari were once decorated with larger than life posters of film stars; the fairy lights around the borders were part of the panorama that earned Karachi its quintessential name.
It has been a long time since the old cinemas of the city were that radiant. After the hustle and bustle at Karachi’s old movie theatres died down gradually over the years, last Friday they were torched to ashes by unruly crowds.
While Nishat Cinema was the first, cinemas Prince, Capri and Bambino soon became household names. Widely popular films including the Urdu rendition of Guns of Navarone as Noorudin ki Bandooq were screened in these theatres. Golden jubilee successes like Aina also kept audiences enchanted. The young and old of the ‘60s and ‘70s have an emotional attachment to these cinema houses; Bambino may have been an attraction due to its charming dancing lady or the first 70mm screen in Pakistan, but Nishat makes movie goers equally nostalgic.
It may surprise you, but the amount of money that Nishat generated up until last week was more than any other circuit cinema all over Punjab and Sindh. “Nishat still generates the most revenue in Pakistan and is in a league of its own in circuit cinemas,” Nadeem Mandviwalla, the visionary behind Atrium Cinemas who also has a stake in Nishat told The Express Tribune in an earlier interview.
Nishat was the only cinema that survived the chain reaction in which many major cinema houses like Rex Cinema (now Rex Centre) were converted and demolished after the Pakistani film industry rapidly went downhill. In the early ‘00s, Mandwivalla decided to renovate Nishat at a time when there was no hope of any Indian film coming to the country.
“I saw the best Pakistani and Hollywood films at Nishat,” recalls seasoned film and TV actor, Behroze Sabzwari. “It was by far the best cinema in Pakistan until black Friday,” he adds regretfully.
In the recent past, when Cineplex opened at Sea View and began to create a class divide by allowing couples and families only, Nishat remained the only ray of hope for the awaam of Karachi.
“Nishat was one of the oldest cinema in Pakistan, but it was its class and peoples’ emotional attachment to it which helped it survive when other cinemas were demolished,” says Rashid Khawaja, the President of the United Producers Association in Pakistan.
“With Nishat and its neighbouring cinemas being torched to death, no cinema survives to cater to the needs of the common man, no more films will be made and cinema will now become an elitist medium,” adds Khawaja.
From families to groups of young boys, crowds flocked to Nishat for entertainment. Whether it was for Shahrukh Khan starrer Billo Barber, Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye or a film such as The Son of Pakistan, there would always be a bustle at the ticket office.
Film-maker Shehzad Rafique wrote about his emotional attachment to Nishat Cinema on Facebook. “This place gave me recognition and respect as my films like Nikkah, Rukhsati, Mohabbatan Sachiyan and Salakhain were released here and turned out to be big hits.”
Javed Sheikh, a well known name in the Pakistani film industry, used to live near Nishat Cinema. He says that last Friday’s destruction was a massive loss. “Even before I had entered the film industry, Nishat was an integral part of my childhood. I was fortunate enough to live in the plaza right opposite to it,” he recalls.
“Chief Saab did record business and reigned for 30 consecutive weeks in Pakistan, with the most revenue coming out of Nishat. The government has earned so much from cinemas like Nishat, that now they will have to pay back for its losses,” says Sheikh.
Film-makers and cinema owners may mourn the loss of a piece of Pakistan’s history, but only time will tell whether a vacuum this big can be filled.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2012.