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.
“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.
“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.