A demonstrator carries material inside a burning cinema during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Peshawar on September 21, 2012. – Photo by AFP
A demonstrator carries material inside a burning cinema during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Peshawar on September 21, 2012. – Photo by AFP

When violent mobs took to the streets across Pakistan last Friday, they unleashed their rage – meant to be targeted at a man living thousands of miles away in a foreign land – at any property, vehicles or goods belonging to their own people in their own country. As emotions and anger overflowed, protesters burned down nine of Pakistan’s already limited number of cinema houses. The act was relentless and, perhaps, premeditated. The vandalism was inspired by a film depicting an insulting parody of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which spawned global outrage and protests.

As the decades-old cinemas were charred by smoke and whelmed by wild flames, the management stood outside for hours, watching damages worth tens of millions rupees mount – cent by cent.

In Karachi, the cinemas targeted were Nishat, Capri, Prince, Bambino (located on M.A. Jinnah Road in the Saddar area) Gulistan (Landhi) and Crown (Maripur) and in Peshawar: Firdaus Picture House, Shama and Capital Cinema.

Cinema houses– especially the three prominent ones on M.A. Jinnah Road – have been easy targets for protestors, irrespective of their allegiance (government-owned or otherwise) or adherence to Islamic holidays.

A cinema burns in Karachi, Pakistan on Friday, Sept 21, 2012. “We had erected a sign signifying our commitment and fidelity to the protest. We took down film posters and publicity,” said owners. – Photo by AFP
A cinema burns in Karachi, Pakistan on Friday, Sept 21, 2012. “We had erected a sign signifying our commitment and fidelity to the protest. We took down film posters and publicity,” said owners. – Photo by AFP

“We are always willing to support peaceful protests,” Nawab Hassan Siddiqui, manager of Nishat cinema told Dawn.com, a day after the protests. “The cinemas had been shut for the last four days. We had erected a sign signifying our commitment and fidelity to the protest. We took down film posters and publicity – in fact, we respect all Islamic holidays. For example, we close our cinemas from Muharram 8 to 12,” he said.

Following the protests, cinema owners met to discuss the plan of action. One thing was for sure: They are not expecting the government to offer any support.

“They should start with an apology first. So far there has been none,” said Farrukh Rauf, director of Karachi’s Capri Cinema.

Security negligence was a major factor behind the destruction as little to no presence of law-enforcement agencies encouraged the attacking mob to ransack the already vandalised buildings.

“They failed to respond when the mob attacked” Rauf said. “The plundering went on for at least three to four hours. I was standing there and saw no police or rangers anywhere.”

According to the owners, the attackers soon turned into looters as they broke open the lockers and did away with the cash.

Losses worth millions “When we start the repair work, the costs are likely to go run between Rs. 10 to 30 million,” Capri’s Rauf said.

“We have to fix our ceiling, the cinema screen – which costs 10 to 15 million rupees on its own and buy new sound systems – we had 12 speakers, and each cost Rs.100,000.”

Nadeem Mandviwalla, CEO of Mandviwalla Entertainment, which manages Karachi’s Atrium Cinemas and owns Nishat Cinema could not give an absolute figure on the losses, which he said could run into tens of millions.

Burnt down Prince cinema – Photo by AFP
Burnt down Prince cinema – Photo by AFP

“Nishat and Prince have been nearly razed to the ground. Capri and Bambino have suffered substantial losses. And they will need urgent funds – at least in tens of millions – just to start the process of restructuring,” Nishat’s manager Siddiqui said.

While the cinemas are covered by insurance, owners believe it will not be enough to cover the costs of reconstruction and resurrection.

“Will the insurance money even kick in? Right now, it is too early for concrete answers,” said Mandiwalla.

Lack of government support Burning down one cinema is one thing, but attacking six of Karachi’s most popular cinema houses can be suspected of being a pre-planned activity.

“It seems like a specifically-targeted arson attack,” Rauf said.

“Limited aggression has been seen on and off over the last 30 to 40 years. However, we were never attacked in a planned manner like this time.”

Mandviwalla blamed the government for its insensitivity towards the already dwindling cinema industry. “If you ask me, the burning that day was a license for people to storm, burn and destroy,” he pointed out.

Protestors attack a cinema house in Karachi. Most of Karachi's cinemas are located at or close to M.A. Jinnah Road, which is the main passage of most protests. – Photo by AFP
Protestors attack a cinema house in Karachi. Most of Karachi's cinemas are located at or close to M.A. Jinnah Road, which is the main passage of most protests. – Photo by AFP

“M.A. Jinnah Road is a business centre and yet the government allows every protest to pass through it. Protesters often throw rocks and take down glass windows and doors at Nishat’s entrance. This time, they stormed in and burned it down, but even after this episode, the next procession will still go through M.A. Jinnah Road.”

Mohsin Yaseen –marketing manager of Rawalpindi’s Cinepax – validated Mandviwalla’s point: “The rally was quite peaceful and we didn’t suffer any major losses as the protestors here weren’t interested in bulldozing. It happened in Karachi because the government allowed them to go through M.A. Jinnah Road.”

However, Yaseen was quick to point out that the Punjab government did not provide any additional security.

With an estimated count of 30 high-profile screens in Pakistan, the country’s cinema culture faces near desolation.

The odds are staggering when the number of cinema houses is compared with the size and number of bustling metropolises. “There are over 1,200 cinema screens in Mumbai. In Karachi, which equals Mumbai in population, there are, maybe, 12 screens,” Rauf, Capri cinema owner, said.

However, it may be unfair to compare the two metropolis’ cinema trends due to the sheer size of the Indian film industry and the fact that Indian government receives substantial revenue from box-office window taxes.

“The Pakistani government should encourage the industry”, Mandviwalla said.

“If they did not encourage television, we would still be stuck with PTV. The government has been ignoring the cinema industry for the last 30 years. If you sincerely want to rebuild cinema culture in Pakistan, then the government should come forward and start giving initiatives to cinema owners,” he said.

Yaseen agreed. “The least they should do is to allow concessions on import. Right now, we pay a 35 per cent duty on products. In a bid to support cinema, we should be allowed to buy old equipment in the market – at least until we can get our cinemas up and running.”

For reasons unknown, Yaseen said, the government has banned acquisition of outdated equipment.

According to Mandviwalla, government support should translate into a protected environment, policies and incentives. “Governments do not run cinemas, they initiate incentives. They enable an environment to attract private investment.”

Cinepax’s Nawab highlighted losses that go beyond the cost of the cinemas. “Around 250 people will lose their jobs. People from every walk of life, from cinema employees, to small-business owners – including those who ran burger joints at the cinemas – earned their livelihood here.”

“For those working in the cinema line there really is no alternative,” he said.

No cheap alternatives For the audience, however, there remain limited alternatives, albeit more expensive ones. The processions did not attack any of Pakistan’s multiplexes. It may be down to single-screen cinemas’ instant iconographic identification as the major exhibitors of movies.

A regular ticket at an expensive multiplex is expensive when compared to what cinemas like Capri or Nishat would cost, making film-lovers wonder if the attacks have brought an end to economical cinema for the masses. Mandviwalla, Yaseen and Rauf agree.

“If you go to Atrium (multiplex), you will find it filled to capacity. People in Pakistan have a 24-hour memory. This incident has eliminated cinema for people who cannot afford a Rs.500 ticket. But despite this, cinema is still the cheapest form of entertainment in Pakistan”, said Rauf.

Looking at the ticket window at both Prince and Capri was a harrowing moment. Prince, which sits between Nishat and Capri on main M.A. Jinnah Road, had been closed since summer because of property dispute and litigation. Their last movie was “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Nishat and Capri were playing “Barfi!” before the attack. Bambino’s recent rise to fame was with the notorious “Jism 2”, the Bollywood film starring US adult-film star Sunny Leone.

“Capri and Bambino will resume showing films in three months’ time,” revealed Rauf. “The screen, walls and seats were destroyed, however, the projector survived.”

In such a scenario, would it not be better to build a multiplex out of the rubble?

Rauf said building a multiplex is still more expensive.

“Let me put it this way, to be standing at a high-risk location like this, Rs.50 million is probably not worth it. I am portraying ground realities.”

A view of the burnt down Nishat cinema in Karachi. – Photo by author
A view of the burnt down Nishat cinema in Karachi. – Photo by author

Mandviwalla, whose Nishat suffered total obliteration, said “First of all, we still have to decide if we are going to rebuild Nishat. Whether it’s going to be a multiplex or not, that question will have to wait.”

According to Yaseen, “It will be the biggest mistake, investment-wise, to restructure a cinema on M.A. Jinnah Road. But it’s not just about cinemas. Saddar is a business centre, and shops and business get ravaged, when people mob-up.” There’s high risk there, and running a multiplex is expensive business.

Despite the horrifying experience, cinema owners are not backing out yet. In Karachi, Atrium and Cineplex survive. In October, Cinepax will launch four screens in Karachi at Ocean Towers, Do-Talwar (two swords), Clifton.

The author is a film critic for Images on Sunday and Dawn.com.

Updated Sep 25, 2012 02:34pm

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Comments (51) (Closed)


abc
Sep 25, 2012 05:43pm
All the unislamic things should be taken down. Pakistan is heading to become a model islamic state.
John Boots, USA
Sep 26, 2012 05:07am
humanity bleeds at the hands of humans
Naeem Masih
Sep 26, 2012 05:02am
Sham on Dawn News...you show the burn cinema but dont show the Burnt CHURCH....its mean cinema is more importanat than CHURCH....
princess
Sep 26, 2012 04:53am
i do agree with u
Fareesa
Sep 26, 2012 04:45am
really sad at the loss. The cinemas shouldnt be rebuilt at the same location.
Syed Ahmed
Sep 26, 2012 02:17am
Criminals are in power. Mere shedding tears won’t work. Something bid has to happen.
Gerry D'Cunha
Sep 26, 2012 10:59am
Mr Bilore has got enough money to repair his burnt cinema house when he can dish out $100,000 on the head of the film maker which his party has disowned
kaime
Sep 26, 2012 02:15pm
who is humen?
Suraj
Sep 25, 2012 02:49pm
"A demonstrator carries material inside a burning cinema during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Peshawar on September 21, 2012. – Photo by AFP" Ethically and Morally, Pakistanis lost their right to proclaim itself a whole n sole Tekedar of Islam; after seeing this caption under the picture..
Saurabh Bhardwaj. Seoul
Sep 26, 2012 07:08am
You have made a real point my friend.
AHA
Sep 26, 2012 10:40am
Sad, but true.
jawaid iqbal
Sep 26, 2012 04:08pm
trure is that we are very "short term memory lose nation" daily 10 people killed in our city what we can do for it so do your work take a long sleep and............... we are moralyyy dead
Chawkidar
Sep 27, 2012 11:08am
Mostly the violent protesters belonged to KPK who cam to this city searching for labour jobs.
Krish Chennai
Sep 26, 2012 05:22pm
Naeem, you are comparing apples with oranges, meaning, cinemas with churches.
PN
Sep 26, 2012 10:22pm
When the Pak Govt declared the holiday to protest, the message to the people was clear & suggestive. Everyone knows that in the last several years no public protest is non-violent & peaceful.
Harris Ahmad
Sep 26, 2012 07:41am
What i can say? totally aggressive nation we are
NKhan
Sep 26, 2012 02:54am
This looting and plundering will continue in Karachi as the the looters are immigrants from other provinces who are enforcing there views on peaceful citizens of Karachi and the law enforcement agencies personnel are also imported and imposed on people of Sind and busy in commercial activities.
John Boots, USA
Sep 27, 2012 05:13am
you and me
james
Sep 25, 2012 03:18pm
zardari & asharf should pay for the cost, since they made it a "holiday"
Salman Mannan (USA)
Sep 26, 2012 02:08am
For us Pakistanis the saying should go like this "Don't ask how your country can destroy your life, but show how you can destroy your own country".
Mani
Sep 25, 2012 06:01pm
Spot on.
bkt
Sep 25, 2012 08:46pm
Its the people from up country who want to turn Karachi into the same kind of hell they have run away from. No protests against adult material at cyber cafes naturally.
A Sad Pakistani
Sep 26, 2012 01:46am
...and I agree with you 100 percent.
BEA
Sep 25, 2012 06:46pm
well said.
Saeed
Sep 25, 2012 10:59pm
I think they save the life of those people who go for work every day. Just blame the culprit. Keep the politics away
Nadeem
Sep 25, 2012 05:05pm
......... And the same people burning down cinemas and posters will be renting XXX videos from neighborhood outlets. How did we get here?
rahmat
Sep 25, 2012 08:25pm
i am out of word for these nation ...let them be in this dark mind for ever ...
tipu_S
Sep 25, 2012 07:51pm
haha...that is exactly what i was thinking..... These people are hypocrites and anarchists...!
Ghulam Ishaq
Sep 25, 2012 04:35pm
It doesn't take US or Armitage to take Pakistan back into the stone age, the Pakistanis themselves are capable of doing so and they also proved they could do so.
masroor durrani
Sep 26, 2012 12:35am
Did anything happen to BAMBINO CINEMA? why. Who is bend the property dispute of other cinema? Do the autopsy and find interesting things. A very good lead to stories Believe me.
Ash Mirza (USA)
Sep 25, 2012 06:21pm
So many cenema burn down by pakistan. Howmany people lost jobs.? People lost jobs how they going to feed their families? Is any one thought about it? THere is no unemployment benifits , no walfare system. Very sad...." president JFK said it " ASK NOT WHAT COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU, ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THE COUNTRY"......Pakistani must follow........ Sincerely, Ash Mirza (USA)
gagan
Sep 25, 2012 07:08pm
nasir bhai very well said brother
Murtaza Jamal
Sep 25, 2012 10:28pm
Sadly a large number of us showed what we can do for our country !!
BigdaddyUSA
Sep 27, 2012 11:45am
It's so funny that you destroyed your own movie theaters over someone from the US. I hope you're all happy now.
malik
Sep 26, 2012 03:41am
They should take the city govt to court for failing to protect their property. And I hope now with the renovations and/or renconstruction they do a better job.
Dharmveer
Sep 26, 2012 11:39am
There should be no Cinema in Islamic societies, Music and Cinema is Inconsistent with Islam
Khan
Sep 26, 2012 11:02pm
This was all prearranged, the administration let them in , the police and rangers were absent, a holiday was given and looting was allowed . Just cannot happen all over Pakistan without central OK.
tony
Sep 26, 2012 05:58pm
you know they can not run the pakistan and it should be sale to usa they will give them a lot of dollor or will send them in mountain cave from where they brought. they do not respect any other religion. they are zahil people.
Alex Sal
Sep 27, 2012 02:06am
Nishat, Capri and Princess are historical landmarks and should be restored.
faiz
Sep 26, 2012 05:55pm
What kind of idiots are these people? buring their own cars, buildings , shops etc etc. what is that going to do the the nutcase who made the movie? What kind of love you have for your country and religion? Grow up people use your brain, protest peacefully, violence is unislamic.. Faiz , New Jersey..USA
Mani
Sep 26, 2012 07:06pm
So is normal life... should we stop breathing because some mullah's think its unIslamic. The mullah's need to go... simple as that.
Mani
Sep 26, 2012 07:07pm
I agree. This is biased coverage. What about the Mardan Church?
M Khan
Sep 26, 2012 07:07pm
Well said Naim
Mani
Sep 26, 2012 07:18pm
Here in the west people from all over the world come and live together. There is a system in place and that enables people to live peacefully. Maybe you should stop focussing on spreading hatred and direct your energy in the establishment of a functioning system.
Kapil
Sep 26, 2012 07:40pm
Very sad news...........
Kapil (Canada)
Sep 26, 2012 07:48pm
It is really shocking news. The rioters are not burning of cinema, churches etc but they are also burning the future of their own children and country for short time anger and some coins.
KKRoberts
Sep 26, 2012 03:46pm
Very sarcastic.....But true to every word....
Nasir
Sep 25, 2012 04:43pm
let's not build them. Let 'them' suffer. If you are not the one who burned it down then you should be the one stopping it. You would think by this time everyone would know that you are hurting your own country right? If you are so righteous the go home and burn that vcr/dvd/ipod player along with your tv and while you are at it how about those game consoles that your kids play. You know you can't be too pious, get rid of that cell phone also. That too is a western technology.
Mohan Kochicheril
Sep 26, 2012 01:19am
Why any one has to destruct public places rather than burning their own homes for a change to show their displeasure?
AMV
Sep 26, 2012 02:30pm
AMV Thanks to people like you, we don't need any enemies.
saima
Sep 25, 2012 07:02pm
I totally agree with you. We are not good muslims, we are hypocrites