Lahore’s once pristine cinemas are rotting away and falling apart. This tragedy is well known, yet few have taken any initiative on this front. Last spring, the team behind Super Cinema decided to try something that others had yet to do — revamp a classically built cinema so that it could cater to a wider range of cinema-goers. Following the completion of the project, Shabistan Theatre became the first old cinema on Lahore’s famous Abbot Road to be fully refurbished. While the façade has been restored to its former glory, the interior now boasts state-of-the-art technology and a greater audience capacity. With the screening of Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, the old Shabistan theatre was now officially Super Cinema.
“We took over the operations of Shabistan and revamped it with a state-of-the-art digital system, which includes 3D; almost close to IMAX. It has one of the best projectors in the world, along with a huge screen about 45 feet,” says Imran Idris Mufti, the director of Super Cinema and Summit Entertainment Pakistan.
The new Shabistan Super Cinema has been put together exceptionally well, and routinely fills its auditorium. It is an initiative that has also bridged the divide between old and new cinema. The cinema halls at Shabistan have a rich history, and the theatre itself stands lined-up against five other old cinemas, such as Metropole. All kinds of Pakistani films used to be shown at these once illustrious cinemas on Abbot Road, until the downturn of local films occurred.
“The cinema was in the heart of the city. It has culture and legacy. Abbot Road and McLeod road are famous for films but families had stopped coming [here]. Now our halls are filled with families who never used to visit this part of town,” says Mufti.
Mufti, who launched Super Cinema’s first screen at the Royal Palm Golf & Country Club, has always maintained high-definition cinematic experiences and says that they are here to stay. He has systematically been acting on his long-term plan, which hopes to push traditional pioneers of multiplex and cinema distribution in Lahore. The result has been a dramatic shift in Lahore for both cinema-goers and Pakistan’s local film distributors. Dominated by only one or two major players over the last few years, the growth in multiplexes has been shaken up by the introduction of Summit Entertainment’s Super Cinema. In a span of two years, Super Cinema has added 15 new cinema screens to the city and plans to continue expanding.
These plans were complemented with another adventure on Mufti’s part, to develop the first cinema inside a mall on MM Alam Road. This multiplex screen, which has already started to accommodate private screenings, is the first of its kind in Lahore. Basing this decision on the American concept of making cinema part of the shopping experience, Mufti says that it will give easy access to people in Gulberg who are looking to catch a movie while out shopping.
“It gives you multiple facilities under one roof, you can go shop, have a good time, and have food. The view is amazing, we have three screens there, and a gold cinema with VIP services,” says Mufti.
Now, with an infrastructure of a growing number of multiplex screens firmly in place, the next frontier is an expansion of the film distribution options in Lahore. Summit Entertainment has already started to import foreign films, such as Rush and Once upon a time in Mumbai Dobaara, and are quietly getting involved with local movies as well.
“We are picking up Pakistani movies. This wave that has sort of taken place, where there is improved Pakistani content, we want to be a part of that as well,” says Mufti.
“I think things have changed for the better, people are starting to come back to cinemas but when you talk about Pakistan and numbers, I feel even a hundred screens for Lahore would not be enough. The potential is a lot and growth and competition will be a good thing.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2013.