Bambino Cinema: Inaugurated by Ayub, destroyed by a mob

Published: September 23, 2012
Bambino Cinema is one of Karachi’s six charred movie theatres.

Bambino Cinema is one of Karachi’s six charred movie theatres.


While Ciniplex and Atrium Cinemas have re-opened after a day’s closure, now full to the brim with moviegoers eager to watch the recently released Kareena Kapoor starrer Heroine, the city’s oldest cinemas show no signs of life.

Bambino Cinema is one of Karachi’s six charred movie theatres that tell the story of violent protestors rallying on Youm-e-Ishq, looting and burning property on a whim. But as the resilient and amnesic citizens of Karachi quickly put Friday’s madness behind them, Bambino is deathly silent.

Instead of the buttery smell of fresh popcorn and the chatter of excited moviegoers, the entrance hall of Bambino is fetid and empty. The sharp, sulphuric stink of burnt plastic hits the back of the throat, the metal grille installed as a security measure was warped by the heat and human hand, its gaping holes proof that bolt cutters were used. Posters of local and Indian films hang from the ceiling in tatters. The one item that has remained intact is a sign nailed to the door of the ticket booth that reads: authorised personnel and employees only.

While business has rapidly fallen since its golden years, owing to more sophisticated competitors, Bambino – which was once owned by Hakim Ali Zardari – prides itself on a rich history. Inaugurated by former president, Field Marshall Ayub Khan, in 1968, Bambino was home to the first 70mm projection screen in Pakistan, and was a hotspot for well-heeled young men and women in its heyday. But today, its owners lament a tragedy that did not spare even its thriving competitors on MA Jinnah Road. Its ground floor office and projection room have been completely destroyed, along with expensive equipment that was not insured.

“The mob burnt this place down five times,” said Bambino’s middle-aged air conditioning operator Nusrat, leading the way to the burnt staircase. He explained that he was present at the scene and had watched the police and firefighters put up a fight the first four times. “Goliyon aur dandon ke agay, kaun kya kar sakta hai?” How could anyone fight back against their bullets and batons?

On the first floor, the cinema’s canteen and storeroom are bare and badly damaged. Plastic crates that hold soft drinks have burnt and melted into one another. The canteen counter has been turned upside down and its locked fridge was smashed and pillaged. Bottle caps and shattered glass are the only hint of colour on a floor carpeted in black ash. It is obvious that equipment was stolen before the place was set alight.

“The LCDs and computers have been taken from my office,” cried owner Sheikh Adeel Imtiaz, recording the footage of the destruction on his handycam as pieces of glass crunched underfoot. “I saw the cinema ablaze on TV and tried to get here as fast as I could,” he added, explaining that his cinema had been closed due over security concerns since Monday.

Imtiaz admitted that he had no insurance. “We could not afford the cost,” he said. “We were doing record business but we never thought that someone would damage a cinema this badly.”

“It’s such a pity,” muttered Saeed Shiraz, a cinema marketer who arrived at Bambino after visiting the four other cinemas in the city that were also burnt down. “What will the paan and dry fruit vendors outside do now? Everyone’s business will be affected. Yahaan gharib hi gharib ka sab se bara dushman hai,” he said. The poor man is the poor man’s worst enemy.

Kaiser Yousuf, the owner of a small mobile booth on the ground floor of Bambino, said he suffered a loss of Rs1.4 million. “The protestors chucked the mobile phones out for the mob and burnt my shop down,” he said. “They may be celebrating their love for our Prophet (pbuh), but with the cinema, they burnt two copies of the Holy Quran,” he said, as his employer muttered “They took the name of the Prophet (pbuh) but did the work of the devil.”

Despite the considerable damage done to his cinema, Imtiaz is determined to rebuild, hoping to invest Rs30 million into projection and sound. But distributor Kamran Yar Khan from Tehulka Private Limited, who was hoping to collaborate with Imtiaz to revamp Bambino, said the government needs to step up. “As an association, we need to take a unified stand. What if this happens again?”

As the owner mourned his loss, he expressed his frustration at the law and order in the city and echoed the sentiments of many frustrated citizens: “There is always security for the embassies but none for the citizen.”

Cinemas of the past:

1      Star

2      Lyric

3      Chandni

4      Nayab

5      Regent

6      Society

7      Novelty

8      Ruby

9      Alif Laila

10    Shabana

11    Piccadilly

12    Reno

13    Nafees

14    Shireen

15    Rangmahal

16    Rajmahal

17    Rahat

18    Odeon

19    Imperial

20    Empire

21    Royal

22    Nigar

23    Firdous

24    Regal

25    Metro

26    Venus

27    Imdad

28    Sohni

29    Qaiser

30    Shah talkies

31     Rex

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Film Maker
    Sep 23, 2012 - 11:18AM

    This is so sad, people destroying property of their own country.. how can you burn your own home.. I am not disgusted by the feeling that I am part this JAHIL nation and is this how you u should love for your Prophet Mohammad ( PBUH) , do you love Prophet Mohammad PBUH more then people madina..

    I hope Allah has NOT abandoned us, day of Jahilat are still not over.


  • M. Salim
    Sep 23, 2012 - 11:47AM

    Bambino’s coveted screenings included “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Ben Hur”, “Cleopatra” and neighbor Lyric screened “Guns of Navarone”, “The Great Escape” – what a sad situation and damage to the image of Islam – these people are the actual blasphemers


  • Abdul Rahman Khan
    Sep 23, 2012 - 2:29PM

    Quite many old cinema houses are not included in the list. I was quite active Cinema-goer in my youth. I can recollect some of the popular cinema houses not listed among them are: Naaz, Plaza, Ritz, Light House, Majesrtic, Picture House, Taj Mahal, Jubilee, Erose, Kumar, Roxy, Super, Noor Mahal, Nairang, Palace, Reno, Capital, Paradise, Mayfair, Nagina, Filmistan.


  • Saadiya
    Sep 23, 2012 - 3:51PM

    Really sad . The owners should ask compensation from the political parties that whipped the masses to a frenzy and left them to rob on the streets


  • Saadiya
    Sep 23, 2012 - 4:01PM

    Really sad . The owners should ask compensation from the political parties that whipped the masses to a frenzy and left them to rob on the streetsRecommend

  • Malik Asim
    Sep 23, 2012 - 4:39PM

    Really sad.This cinema is just a walking distance from my home.The Owner must ask for compensation from President Zardari as have attached old memories with this Cinema.


  • Abdul Rahman Khan
    Sep 23, 2012 - 5:08PM

    Yes, I fully agree with you. There are not many cinema houses left for recreation of citizens in karachi. Every effort should be made to bring the arsonists to trial with the help of the cc footage. The Cinema owners should also fix cameras, overt and covert both, around their cinema building to catch the arsonists and holigans in any such even in future.The idiot US film maker will be laughing on the loss of lives and properties ignited by his film in muslim countries.


  • Mrinal
    Sep 23, 2012 - 6:36PM

    I wonder why people fail to understand that they cause damage to public property when they burn a multiplex or a car.


  • Urooj Saifi
    Sep 23, 2012 - 7:23PM

    I am sure Bambino will rise from the ashes as a new Cineplex and a shopping mall – just wait and see.


  • israr
    Sep 24, 2012 - 7:15AM

    Very sad. Govt. Should ce.sate all losses as they had facilitated it by declaring a holiday a. Sorry for the vision of our leaders . The should have anticipated such acts. Or they are themselves intentionly invoedRecommend

  • Mahrukh
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:15AM

    Very well-written Atika.Very informative. Here’s hoping that the government has the sense to take responsibility and help old cinemas like Bambino rise from the ashes.


  • UHS
    Sep 24, 2012 - 1:08PM

    “The one item that has remained intact is a sign nailed to the door of the ticket booth that reads: authorised personnel and employees only.”

    Ahhh… the irony !


  • Arshad.Usmani
    Sep 26, 2012 - 4:31PM

    Good old days, The life use to be so lively at Bambino, Capri, and Rex in 70’s just as any where in the Europe or America at a movie theater today.Soon we will be in stone age and this country shall turn into “Country of Apes”


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