With Nishat cinema, Pakistan’s film industry lost its golden goose

Published: September 25, 2012

Nishat was one of the only cinemas that survived while others were converted and demolished. PHOTO: FILE

Nishat was one of the only cinemas that survived while others were converted and demolished. PHOTO: FILE Nishat was one of the only cinemas that survived while others were converted and demolished. PHOTO: FILE Nishat was one of the only cinemas that survived while others were converted and demolished. PHOTO: FILE Nishat was one of the only cinemas that survived while others were converted and demolished. PHOTO: FILE
KARACHI: 

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.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • Shahid Mengal
    Sep 25, 2012 - 9:47PM

    What are the box office earnings of the cinemas in karachi? why don’t they declare their revenue like all the other cinemas in the world? Cineplex and Atrium must be earning quite a lot,now ppl will flock to Atrium .

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  • Faisal
    Sep 25, 2012 - 9:52PM

    Unforgettable Memories!!! what a show that was when I went there last time for the movie MATRIX so sad that we have been deprived from these moments !!!

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  • Silent Spectator
    Sep 25, 2012 - 10:12PM

    I remember watching numerous movies at Nishat and the surrounding cinemas. This is really sad that the uneducated, ignorant, and overzealous gangs are destroying not only Karachi’s but Pakistan’s heritage and history. Pakistan should draft and implement some strict anti-rioting laws that serve as deterrent for these miscreants. Once a few miscreants get exemplary punishment, we’ll see how that deters their friends. I hate to see Pakistan being destroyed and taken over by these hate-mongering thugs. Good job government!

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  • saleem
    Sep 25, 2012 - 11:48PM

    I still remember that wonderful afternoon in Ramadan during the 70s I when my dad took me to see Ben Hur at this cinema. Those were the good old days.

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  • salman
    Sep 26, 2012 - 1:13AM

    similar incidents occured in Afghanistan a decade or two back , the Pakistani MOB is quickly heading towards civil war

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  • Goran
    Sep 26, 2012 - 2:04AM

    what happened, why is it lost? has it been closed down by the owner? If destroyed by protestors recently then it surely can be rebuilt as it has been burned in the past as well.

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  • Jamal Khan
    Sep 26, 2012 - 2:12AM

    All this violence and destruction in the name of “Religion of Peace” – pathetic and shameful.

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  • Sep 26, 2012 - 2:36AM

    I saw the first show of Mr.420 at the nishat cinema some 20 years ago. bought the ticket in black and off course the umer sharif was hilarious.

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  • Jibran
    Sep 26, 2012 - 5:14AM

    Indeed, burning cinema like Nishat will not be a work of person who ever knew about art and culture in his life. I have never been there but on the ‘black friday’ i did watch burning Shama and Firdous Cinemas in Peshawar. The mob who did burn the Cinemas were just there to steal and plunder and had nothing to do with the holly cause people were observing on that day. The Criminal Laws and evidence procedure should be updated to kneel down people like we have seen on the day. They loot, plunder and destroy and later set free by the court as they don’t have witnesses against them. I say let made the technology a witness against them.

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  • Mahmood
    Sep 26, 2012 - 8:54AM

    The owners should see the opportunity that this presents to re-invent themselves and the business. With some investment, they should seriously start looking to compete with the likes of Atrium / Cineplex while focusing on public accessibility and quality.

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  • Anonymous
    Sep 26, 2012 - 9:33AM

    Saw my film in a theatre at Nishat…chief saab…have in fact watched a lot of movies in nishat over the last couple of years…and after visiting both cineplex and atrium can easily say that nishat was above both…and even in terms of audiences ..nishat used to have a pretty decent crowd especially in their sunday morning shows…hope they are able to restore you back to your former glory!!!

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  • Sep 26, 2012 - 10:15AM

    Sad..I hope it is rebuilt. Have great memories attached to it. This place was a cultural landmark of Karachi. Huge failure on part of our government and they should compensate these cinema owners.

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  • Pir Bulleh Shah
    Sep 26, 2012 - 11:27AM

    I stopped watching cinemas when I was 12 and never missed them. Pakistan is an Islamic country. Islam teaches us discipline.

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  • Hardliner
    Sep 26, 2012 - 4:50PM

    Ur whining as if (God forbid) a mosque was brought down instead of this cinema……………….. what an unnecessarily long article over such a petty issue…….. people of Pakistan can and will easily survive without the cinemas…… focus on related issues only, PLEASE!!!!!

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  • Sher Alam Shinwari
    Sep 26, 2012 - 7:51PM

    Nice piece , more or less same is true of the historic Peshawar city where four cinemas were torched . I am not clear on the correct use of the structure ” kept audiences enchanted”
    I think it should be ‘ Kept audience enchanting.’

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  • anwar
    Sep 26, 2012 - 9:34PM

    Good old PRE-WAHABI ISLAM DAYS. In those days our presidents used to call the secretary and where is this united emirates and why is he dressed up like a camel trader

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  • Chris Sahar
    Sep 26, 2012 - 9:41PM

    Well, I am saddened to hear this as even here in New York some of the art house film houses are rare outside huge city centers as NYC – Village Cinema, Film Fourm, Anthology Film Archives, etc. What causes this is sheer capitalism – the multiplexes offering 14 theatres showing films which guarantee popularity or from those with the money win out. The independents and uncommon films are shown far less.

    But burning down such jewels would be astounding and I may say that theatres who discriminate only to couples and families invite themselves to be burnt down by equally those excluded.

    We have in the US Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to have volunteers help with basics – housing, education and agriculture. But why not an ArtsCorps? A chance where a young Pakistani, Afghan or someone else who may not have had the money for an education beyond a few years, gets a chance to learn about film and art through a mutual arts exchange program with the US in which both contribute? The same would go for an American – maybe someone who does not have HS Diploma. More Educated and/or experienced participants from both sides could participate in arts management or the creative process. Art may not solve the world’s problems, but it does prepare people to solve them by instilling the need to be still, watch, listen and move with careful thought and understanding, and be open to another viewpoint and accept it just as that – another viewpoint which may find a way to assist the audience member in the future.

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  • mehboob
    Sep 28, 2012 - 6:00PM

    no words for d incident ………. ahhhh its d only place whr u cn watch sm good movies wid sm decent audience hav sm strong emotional attachment for nishat will miss it saw awarapan 7 tymes at nishat plZzzzzzzz rebuilt like before

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  • Raza Hashmi
    Sep 29, 2012 - 3:18PM

    The Government is requested to allocate funds to rebuild the Nishat cinema being the best & having historical significance.

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  • Oct 2, 2012 - 1:38PM

    I have watched some of the best movies in Nishat. Hearing the news of it s burning I m really very depressed, hope fully it will be rebuild. Nadeem Mandviwala and I were in the same class in the BVS Shcool, i know him from his child hood, I know he wont lose courage.

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  • Oct 2, 2012 - 1:41PM

    Hope for the rebuilding of NishatRecommend

  • Oct 2, 2012 - 1:46PM

    hope for the rebuilding of great NishatRecommend

  • Ishtiaq Ahmed
    Oct 2, 2012 - 5:03PM

    Anxiously looking forward to witness re-building of Nishat. Last surviving cinema faced the brunt of the mob sometime back during the so called peaceful protest. People should not forget life and property of other fellow Muslims are equally important. Putting cinemas and banks on fire and looting from ATM machines, is this our Islam teaches? certainly not, then why this destruction??Recommend

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