KARACHI: After it was set on fire by a mob more than seven years ago, Nishat Cinema’s shutters were finally up to help the construction crew tear the place down.
Located on M.A. Jinnah Road, the cinema was initially owned by a Hindu businessman. After Partition, it was owned by the Kandawalla family and is now part of the Mandviwalla Estate.
According to the caretaker of the property, the cinema was inaugurated by Quaid-i-Azam’s sister Fatima Jinnah and the first film screened here was Amar and Sulochana’s Doli.
“We have shown some amazing movies here,” he said while putting away reels of films that will most likely be destroyed due to a copyright clause.
Mukhtar, who has worked at Nishat since the 1980s, said people used to love watching action-packed English movies such as Rambo: First Blood, Terminator and Bruce Willis’ Die Hard.
“We also had a large crowd for Jurassic Park, King Kong and Titanic. Our screen was smaller than Prince but people loved coming here. We also had private shows. The cinema had a capacity for 800 to 840 people and there was a time we were booked for weeks,” he said, adding that there was a time you could buy a ticket for Rs3.
As he stacked away posters of Hollywood blockbusters such as Hunger Games, Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour, Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Ring 2, he claimed that the ticket prices had increased over the years from Rs150 to around Rs300.
“I think the last film screened here was Ranbir Kapoor’s Barfi with that beautiful girl […] Priyanka or Deepika? It did good business,” he added.
According to Razzak Ahmed, there was a time business was good. “One film would celebrate its silver and golden jubilee at side cinemas. For example, at Rex in 1969 or the early ’70s, Waheed Murad’s film Andaleeb did business for a good eight to 10 weeks as did the film Noor Jehan,” he said, adding that tickets would sell out within the hour.
Ali Abbas, one of the oldest employees and caretakers of the cinema, said that he was there the day everything went to hell.
“We had locked up for the day. I was just sitting by the gate — inside — and a mob of young men came and started roughhousing. There were a lot of them outside and they eventually broke down the gate. Once they were inside they started breaking things and set the place on fire. They even came after me — hurling abuses and what not. I ran and jumped over the wall. My knees were hurt and haven’t been the same since,” he said.
“It looked like the fire was breathing into the clouds. It was tragic. I felt like the cinema burnt to death for a week […] a slow death,” he added.
Saad Hasan, a reporter who works for TRT in Istanbul, was working with a local newspaper back in 2012. He was in the field when Nishat, Prince and other cinemas in Karachi were set ablaze.
“It was complete chaos that tells you the havoc a mob can cause when it goes wild. I’ll never forget the caretaker of Nishat. I went there a day later to do a follow-up and he was sitting there with his arms folded at his chest and he was crying like he had lost a family member. He kept asking why anyone would do something like this,” he said.
“I am sure the mobs had planned to burn down cinemas and other buildings beforehand. Film posters and billboards had already been taken down or covered so there was nothing to provoke them.”
There were these random boys who were out to loot while the place was burning it became a free for all, men took out seats, popcorn machines, steel railings and anything they could get their hands on. The police were helpless,” he added.
According to Ali Abbas, he remembers the day Rangeela’s 1974 Parda Na Uthao screened at Nishat.
“It was a hit. Rangeela did three roles! The crowd loved it. Waheed Murad’s films also did great here,” he said.
Sharing his memories of the cinema, Gibran K. said that he saw this first ever feature film at Nishat.
“I’ll never forget the rumbling thump of the footsteps of the approaching T-Rex [in Jurassic Park]. I also came here to watch Jinnah with my class. Nishat is also the cinema where I came for my first movie date with a group of friends that included one of the owners’ children who thought it was hilarious to take us to an Urdu screening of Jurassic Park 3,” he said.
For Zohair Raza, the first film he saw at Nishat was Munda Pakistani. “I got a seat in the front row — no cushion for just Rs20,” he said.
Sophia Ahmed said that she also had great memories of watching Jumanji and Titanic. While Sonya said that it was the most superior cinema and if it was around right now it would still be the best — “the screen was A+”.
Journalist Anwar Ali said that the first film he saw at Nishat was Salakhain, a Pakistani film and the last movie he saw was Salman Khan’s Singham.
Shoaib remembers how his uncle took him and his brother for night shows.
“I remember watching Bloodsport starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and during intermission the guy would come inside with snacks. We even got to check out the projection room and see the reels in the can,” he recalled.
Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2019