LAHORE: Cinemas across the country continue to go through a difficult phase that began with the ban on Indian films -- and the loss could not be compensated by the handful of local productions, while now the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated the situation.

The latest cinema to meet an unfortunate fate is the historic Plaza Cinema that has been razed to the ground. But its owner claims the building is being redesigned and the cinema would be renamed Art Plaza.

Plaza Cinema has a long and a rich history. It was built on Queen’s Road in 1933 as Sagar Theatre. After Partition, it was renamed Plaza Cinema and screened mostly western films. Over time and with changing trends and governments, the cinema also started screening Indian and local films and even staged Punjabi plays.

Renowned writer and journalist Hameed Akhtar also housed the office of his film magazine, Jalwa, inside the cinema. Many generations have watched some landmark films there, such as Summer of 42 and Ryan’s Daughter.

But the stakeholders said that with the passage of time, the number of films being screened was not enough to revive the industry. And these films also attracted cinema-goers only on special occasions such as Eid, leaving the cinema vacant for the rest of the year.

Now, the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation with all cinemas having been closed for over four months. As for Plaza Cinema, there are rumours that a shopping mall was being built at the spot.

However, Jahanzaib Baig, the owner of the building, rubbished all speculation. “No shopping mall is being built, but the cinema is being redesigned, keeping the original theme intact. I have removed and preserved some of the sections like the wooden dance hall, which will be incorporated in the new design. The idea is to make the site more commercially viable with one section dedicated to the original theme and business.”

Mr Baig elaborated that the façade of the building would remain the same, however some additions would be made inside such as a coffee shop, a dance hall, a cinema with a maximum of 200 seats and a few staff offices. “I want to redesign the building in line with the grandeur and nostalgia attached to the cinema; a vibrant place for art and cultural activities,” he added.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2020