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A capital without cinema

June 25, 2011

ISLAMABAD, June 25: Today Islamabad stands apart for the unwanted distinction of having no cinema house. The three cinema houses in the capital have been closed down over the last decade.

An official told Dawn that in the late 1960s Capital Development Authority (CDA) developed “a few cinemas” and handed them over to investors on subsidised cost under amenities plots head to provide entertainment to citizens.

Recalling, the official said the first movie house was set up in 1966 in Melody Market. He said after the Melody Cinema, the government-owned, but now defunct, National Film Development Corporation set up its two movie halls, which were known as Nafdec I and II, in 1974. Kohsar Cinema was the third and the last one to be established in the capital city's sector G-7. “Flop local films and rising extremism in the country led to closure of all three,” the official added.

The people living in Islamabad now go to Rawalpindi's Cinepax to watch movies.

Bilal Ishtiaq, an employee of a multinational company, said he would “go all the way” to Rawalpindi along with family members and friends to watch Bol , a recently released Pakistani Urdu movie.

Melody Cinema was burnt down on October 7, 2003, in a protest over the killing of Maulana Azam Tariq, head of the outlawed Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a day earlier. One of the cinema's guards had also died in the blaze.

Attique Khan Khattak, owner of Melody Cinema, told Dawn that the movie house had survived a blast and a fire in 1970s.

“But the 2003 incident forced us to shut it down permanently.” He added that they suffered a loss of over Rs40 million after the cinema was gutted.

Mr Khattak said Kamran Lashari, former CDA chairman, had asked him to reopen the cinema. “But I asked him will he assure security for my cinema from protests and arson and his answer was no.”

He is ready to “open cinema for the citizens if I am given financial compensation besides a surety by the authority that my property will be secured from any possible attack in future.”

In 2001, according to media reports, Nafdec was liquidated by the Ministry of Culture under the president's order and the complex was sold to a private party.

Now the CDA has allowed the owner of Nafdec property to build a multi-storey tower. “The CDA has given approval for establishing a multi-storey tower at the site which currently has a three-storey structure of Nafdec Cinema,” said the official.

He added that a famous commercial plaza alongside Nafdec cinema, Beverly Centre, was also meant to be a movie house but the plot's “land use” was changed to commercial property.

With the local film industry on the decline, Kohsar Cinema was closed down. Moreover because of its location, the elite stayed away from it.

Ramzan Sajid, Capital Development Authority spokesman, maintained: “We did our job by allotting cinema owners amenities plots. If they are closed today because of a film industry on its last legs, it's not our fault.” About security for cinema houses, he insisted: “We can provide better civic facilities to commercial plaza owners but not the security. It is the job of law enforcement agencies.”

However, the spokesman added that a multi-storey developer has promised to establish a cinema at Centaurus Tower.

“We will also have a cinema at the Nafdec multi-storey complex.”

But the spokesman gave no timeline for establishing a new cinema in the city. “We don't have the financial resources any more to establish such facilities.”