Lights Out!

Express May 03, 2010

KARACHI: As part of a series of measures to reduce electricity consumption in Punjab, cinema houses have been told to close at 8 pm.

The move has caused outrage amongst cinema owners. The Lahore Electric Supply Company Limited (Lesco) is facing an extreme electricity shortage and the Punjab government is cutting down electricity consumption wherever it can. All commercial businesses - except restaurants and theatres - have been directed to shut down by 8 pm.

Cinemas have been included in this category and Lesco has said that it will shut down the electricity supply to cinemas after 8 pm. Cinema owners have complained that the government gave no notice before implementing this move and have forcibly shut down their cinemas. Owners also claim that cinemas are not allowed to remain open even if they are run on generators.

The Film Exhibitors Association called a press conference on Sunday at Gulistan cinema, where chairman Jahanzeb Beg stated that this law was unfair as all other business have been allowed an eight to 10 hour working day while cinemas start work at 4 pm in the afternoon and have to shut down at 8 pm. He declared that shutting down cinemas at 8 pm would kill their business and bring a severe fall in revenue.

A number of cinema owners were present at the conference and made an impassioned appeal to the government to put cinemas in the same slot as restaurants and theatres who have been allowed to remain open till 12 am. The move has been met with a mixed reaction. A college student in Lahore, Nimra, told The Express Tribune, “I love watching movies but the cinemas have not been playing any good films recently.

If they do then I will go watch them regardless of what time they play.” Ayesha, a student of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, had a different take and said, “It is completely unfair what is being done to cinemas. They come under the same bracket as restaurants and theatres and are a part of the entertainment sector. My friends and I have stopped going to cinemas as we cannot change our schedules.

Cinemas should be allowed to remain open and people should be given a chance to relax in the evenings.” The association said that in the last three years cinemas have improved and a number of new cinemas had opened in Punjab. But the Punjab government’s recent imposition of a 65 per cent tax on the screening of Indian and English films and the closure at 8 pm rule will cause business to fall drastically.

The association has met with Pakistan Electric Power Company and was assured that cinemas would be allowed to stay open till 12 am. However, one hour after the meeting, Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) cut the connection to Cinestar cinema. The association has said that if the government and Wapda do not come to the aid of cinemas then the association will have to come up with its own plan.

On Monday, the Lahore High Court (LHC) observed during the hearing of a petition on the issue, that if the cinemas used generators after 8 pm, the government couldn’t take any action against them as they used their own means of power generation. Zoraiz Lashari, who also claims to be the president of Cinema Owners Association, wasn’t present at the press conference chaired by Jahanzeb Beg. A source told The Express Tribune that a meeting among all the cinema owners was underway to resolve the differences among the cinema owners.

He said that after the LHC observance that cinemas couldn’t be stopped from running shows if they use their own power means, the cinema owners were holding a meeting to devise a permanent solution to this problem. Pakistan Cinema Management Association’s chairman Qaiser Sanaullah Khan told The Express Tribune that the meeting of the cinema owners was still in progress.

The meeting was ongoing till the filing of this report and Khan said that it was expected that cinema owners would also discuss a policy about the imposition of tax on the screening of foreign films. WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALI USMAN


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