For nearly three decades, the people who work at Bambino Cinema were able to somehow protect it from the mobs that would steamroll MA Jinnah Road during countless protests. But on Friday, their luck ran out: Nishat, Prince and Capri on MA Jinnah Road were set ablaze. A similar fate lay in store for Gulistan in Landhi and Nargis in Quaidabad.
Nawab Hasan Siddiqui, the owner of Nishat Cinema, said he will never open it again. “Now I know there is no guarantee of our safety. No assurance is enough. We did everything that they [protest organisers] had asked us to do.”
He is referring to the fact that Nishat had already decided to close for four days. “I have shut it down every Muharram, on 12th Rabi-ul Awal and whenever I was asked.”
The cinema has been destroyed. Since its inauguration by Fatima Jinnah in 1947, no one had attacked it. “I will miss the days - the time when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Huseyn Shaheed Suharwardy and Fatima Jinnah came here to watch movies,” he said.
It was too early to estimate the cost of the damage, but Siddiqui said it was in the millions of rupees.
Thousands of men holding sticks, bricks and some of them guns descended on public and private property on MA Jinnah Road. They were chanting slogans and were backed by half a dozen political and religious parties.
“We begged, pleaded and even told them lies that children were inside,” said a man who works for a communication devices shop located in the Bambino Cinema building. “They attacked the place three times and finally barged in and set fire to everything.”
A fire engine, which rushed to save the cinema, was also attacked. The firefighters were dragged out of the vehicle, their clothes torn and they were beaten. No one from the rescue services dared venture to that part of MA Jinnah after that.
“Now it’s Rio Cinema’s turn,” said a teenager as he filmed the ashes and glass floating down from the Bambino building. “The United States doesn’t know who they have messed with.”
As cellular services were jammed, traders rushed to salvage their businesses after seeing footage on television.
One businessman was hysterical. He runs restaurants in two of the cinemas, which have been gutted. “I tried calling the fire brigade people but they refused to come. Do you know where we can find a water tanker? Did no one come forward to save it?”
A Sindh Bank’s branch located beside Nishat Cinema was also looted. Only orange cash bags survived.
Burning tyres every few feet ran like an obstacle course the entire stretch of MA Jinnah Road and connecting streets, which lead to the electronics market and beyond.
Throughout the afternoon and late into the evening the protesters fought pitched battles with the police, which did not let anyone to cross the Native Jetty Bridge despite coming under intense firing and a hail of rocks.
Every time police fired tear-gas shells and fired shots into the air, the demonstrators would run back. “Come back. Come back. Let’s fight,” came shouts from men in shalwar kameez bolstered by younger ones in jeans. Party affiliation didn’t matter as long as a person was part of the protest.
By evening, PIDC intersection had turned into a war zone with shreds of paper strewn everywhere. Branches of National Bank of Pakistan, NIB Bank, UBL, Al Baraka and a KFC outlet were looted and torched.
“People took everything. Computer monitors, printers, chairs, cash machines and even cheque books,” said a witness. Nearby, in front of the containers stood the carcasses of police mobile vans, which blocked the way to the Chief Minister’s residence.
Despite the odds and being outnumbered, the police faced the protesters with grit, without armoured personnel vehicles or the backing of the Rangers.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2012.