DI Khan, once a city of cinemas and entertainment, is now without a cinema at all. There were five major cinema houses in the city which have been replaced by either commercial plazas or government buildings.
They began vanishing between 2005 and 2010, primarily because of ongoing terrorism threats from Waziristan — leaving entertainment hungry locals as victims of the dying culture of cinema in some parts of Pakistan.
Muhammad Haroon, a former contractor at one of the most famous cinema houses in the city stated, “Tattler Cinema was located at Topanwala Chowk — once a bustling center of commercial activities as well as entertainment. The locals, who were mostly students of Gomal University, used to come frequently to watch night shows.”
He further elaborated that when the cinema closed down, all employees ranging from the gate keepers to the managers were jobless. Also, not only were the employees at Tattler affected but the street vendors as well whose incomes depended on cinema-goers and the bustling crowd at Topanwala Chowk.
Elaborating on why cinema houses began disappearing, Haroon explained that it was not because they got direct threats from terrorists but because ongoing terrorist activities in the region had greatly instilled fear among the local population. People felt afraid to go to cinema houses because of the chance of being blown up in a bomb blast. Also in certain localities, security was greatly tightened, making it difficult for locals to attend which eventually caused the cinemas to shut down.
Hence, to compensate for the loss of major cinemas in the city, dozens of private mini cinema houses were set up. Muhammad Yaseen from the Hemath mohala for instance, owns a tea cafe at Topanwalla Chowk in which he has installed a 24-inch TV to show Indian movies. “I am running two shows from 2pm to 6pm, and charging Rs10 per head. Morning shows have been banned by the local district government because of parents’ complaints that students were skipping school and going to watch films instead.”
Moreover, while these mini cinemas are legal, they often operate secretly and try to stay under the radar. Yaseen explains that there is no sign board for his cinema up front because the police would often raid them and body search the viewers for hashish.
These small scale ventures have gained quite some popularity over time, as 26-year-old Adil Khan who was watching a Pashto telefilm in a mini cinema house in Tank Adda bazaar said, “I am an internally displaced person (IDP), so I am free and have no work. One day I came to the cinema house and watched a film for the first time in my life.” Adil further shared with The Express Tribune: “I became addicted to watching films and now whenever I get a chance I come here.”
Furthermore, the owner of a mini cinema house in Tank Adda, Azam Khan disclosed, “Illiterate, jobless people, especially rickshaw drivers and idle youth come and watch movies here. Women, however, do not go to mini cinema houses because it is an unsuitable environment for them.” Khan also admitted that the selling of hashish and other immoral activities take place at these cinema houses, making them primarily male-dominated.
While terrorist activities are mainly to blame for the closure of cinemas, Irfan Mughal the Editor-in-chief of the Urdu newspaper Daily Aitadal commented on the matter saying, “The advancement of modern technology has changed the trend of society.” Now with cable TV and the internet, people have access to films from the comfort of their homes which has greatly reduced the importance of cinema houses. He also added that with the film industry performing so badly, there is not much for cinemas to run on.
Additionally, when the Department of Culture, Tourism and Sports of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was questioned on the closure of major cinema houses, it was said that the decision to shut down is up to cinema owners and not theirs to make.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2012.