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Enraged mobs set back cinemas in Pakistan

Published Oct 19, 2012 06:29am


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Pakistani police inspect a burnt-out cinema complex following violent protests against an anti-Islam film in Karachi on September 22, 2012. — AFP Photo

KARACHI: For as long as Pakistan has existed, film lovers flocked to the Nishat cinema, sinking into seats in its plush auditorium to watch Hollywood imports, Bollywood hits and homegrown productions.

All that came to an end last month when an enraged mob set fire to the building, trashed furniture and looted equipment – on the 'Yaum-i-Ishq-i-Rasool' day that Pakistan observed to protest again an anti-Islam film.

Eight other cinemas were destroyed - in the conservative, northwestern city of Peshawar and the more cosmopolitan financial capital Karachi - dealing a huge blow to Pakistan's already troubled film industry.

The arson and vandalism has cost scores of jobs and leaves even fewer sources of secular entertainment.

“We didn't make that disgusting film against our beloved prophet, and like everyone else we protested against it. So why loot and destroy cinemas and render hundreds of people jobless?” asked Nawab Huzoorul Hasan, the Nishat manager.

The auditorium which once held 1,000 seats is now a mess of rubble, twisted metal and up-ended chairs. Its staircase is crumbling and its projector room destroyed.

What remains of the gallery could collapse at any time. Fire destroyed the cinema's beautiful ornate ceiling. The giant screen is gone. The wall behind is blackened, even the newly- built bathrooms are destroyed with taps taken away, shattered mirrors and broken doors.

Workers say September 21 was the worst physical attack on cinemas in Pakistan's 65-year history and another setback for a film and entertainment industry that has been nearly stripped bare.

“The cinema culture had just begun to revive when this fatal blow happened,” said Mustafa Qureshi, an actor famous for playing villains in Punjabi films in the 1980s.

Protesters torch a cinema in Peshawar, Pakistan on Friday, Sept 21, 2012. — AP Photo

When General Ziaul Haq seized power in a bloodless coup in 1977, the country had around 1,000 cinemas. Today, there are just over 100 left.

“People used to save up to go to the movies once or twice a month. said Qureshi.

Pakistan banned Bollywood films in 1965, and although exceptions were made for individual films, Zia is credited with making Pakistan less tolerant of secular entertainment.

Film production houses in Lahore and Karachi went into decline.

“During General Zia's days, even a male actor hugging his daughter on film was ordered to be censored,” Tariq Khalique, a documentary filmmaker, told AFP.

“Zia's policies discouraged people from going to cinemas and then he facilitated builders to dismantle cinemas and construct shopping plazas,” he said.

In 2009, the newly elected civilian government lifted the blanket ban on Indian films, wildly popular in Pakistan, and cinemas began to hope that their fortunes might improve.

Now they are not so sure.

“I saw death in front of me,” says Abdul Aziz, who works for the Capri cinema, remembering how he watched armed men he calls criminals cut through the iron gates.

“It was all pre-planned. They looted and burnt cinemas purposely on the pretext of protesting. I wanted to save the cinema and called the fire brigade, but they refused to come, saying they were being attacked by the rioters as well.” Among those destroyed was Bambino, formerly owned by the father of President Asif Ali Zardari in a building where the president once lived with his parents.

“President Zardari should come forward and help us as his father was one of the pioneers of the business and passionate about it,” said Nadeem Mandviwala, owner of the Nishat and head of the film exhibitors' association.

Comic actor Umer Sharif believes lack of entertainment is one factor that sees young men fall into delinquency and militancy.

“It's a great loss. These cinemas provided rare recreational facilities to our young people,” Sharif said.

Others are just sad.

“I've watched scores of movies in these cinemas. For me it wasn't cinemas, but my childhood that went up in flames,” said Abdul Hameed, a construction worker.

Comments (21) Closed

Abdullah Hussain Oct 20, 2012 04:35am
Although I don't support burning of cinema premises however cinema offers nothing but waste of time, besides many cinemas were being used for immoral purposes showing bad stuff.
Rafiq Ahmed Oct 20, 2012 01:29am
They watch TV
Leftist Oct 20, 2012 10:17am
dont go then !
Agha Ata (USA) Oct 20, 2012 12:47pm
Pakistanis were very very angry for something done by somebody else, so they took axes, sharp axes, and then they put their feet on the table nearby, and then chopped their feet off. "Bravo" Now nobody would dare do such a thing again. VOW. :)
iqbal Khan Oct 19, 2012 01:55pm
sorry It should read as I dont agree......
Sandip Oct 19, 2012 12:31pm
Only 100 theathers in Pakistan? Where do people get entertainment? Have Cinemas at home?
madan Oct 21, 2012 05:00am
There should be 0% tax on films and film related activity for 10 years and interest free loans should be given to existing cinema owners to restart their business. This would generate employment as lakhs of people would be employed in the film making industry.
Rajinder Oct 21, 2012 04:52am
This seems like an attempt by some fanatic elements in Pakistani society to drag the country further back into a different age when the masses will not be exposed to new and modern ideas,This way,their minds could be more easily manipulated by these groups. It is the state's job to investigate the matter and take action. These kind of events do not seem like a spontaneous reaction.
Joe Oct 21, 2012 02:23am
What a clueless comment. You could have let the public decide through peaceable discourse and time, but you killed and burned instead. You didn't destroy a building. You destroyed the right and means to create the cinema you could approve of. You didn't encourage what you believe in -- by word or example -- but just destroyed it all. But you don't understand that, do you?
Amaal Oct 21, 2012 01:30am
if you don't like something, don't go to watch it. Movies don't kill, backwards people with their archaic views do more damage to society than any movie can
iqbal Khan Oct 19, 2012 01:54pm
I dont angry with the comments that ANGRY MOB did it. These people are mentally sick and they do these things for fun and watch tamasha.Something is definitely wrong with their upbringing.
Gir na Oct 20, 2012 07:01pm
Brother....I agree to your points keeping myself in your position and respecting your cultural sensitivities ,though I possess a completely different view . Mughal ruler Aurenjeb had buried all the musical instruments and shunned all the entertainments during his reign .So I think people from your communities should follow the example .
Cyrus Howell Oct 19, 2012 02:18pm
"They looted and burnt cinemas purposely on the pretext of protesting. I wanted to save the cinema and called the fire brigade, but they refused to come, saying they were being attacked by the rioters as well.
Cyrus Howell Oct 19, 2012 02:13pm
Cyrus Howell Oct 19, 2012 02:08pm
A job well done.
baldtree Oct 20, 2012 06:07am
Food for thought
Subbu Oct 19, 2012 05:53pm
Music and cinema are very important to any human being. If anyone wants to ban this, they are not humnan. Let us all enjoy music. Let it be Pakistani or Indian or Bangladeshi or western.
Ankush Oct 19, 2012 05:03pm
TV is the source. Indian shows and movies are very popular. They deny it but that's the truth. There are English channels too so its not that bad. Even though in my opinion quality of indian tv shows have decreased but our aunties in pakistan are no different from indian ones :) so tv shows are popular and a major source of time pass :)
Nelson Oct 20, 2012 08:37am
So are your TV stations showing immoral stuff and including the truth about your people and politicians. Do you think they should also be closed. What about the internet and mobile phones, since many such things also do get used for immoral things too? Grow up.
shaan Oct 19, 2012 08:35pm
Sandip.. Pakistan is not as big as India..100 seem like one theatre on every corner..
Goodness Grace Me Oct 19, 2012 05:24pm
This is madness. How many Americans died due to this YouTube movie? Four. How many Pakistanis died? 22 that are accounted for. How many Muslims all over the world die? 100+. Is it really worth? All who died including the Americans were innocent and had nothing to do with that video. This saga continues unless we learn to consider these as someone else's opinion and take it with a pinch of salt. What are we trying to prove by these protests? Change that mad man's opinion about Islam? Did that happen even after hundreds of deaths? No. More people now think the other way. If Islam is a religion of peace as proclaimed by lot of us, the first step to prove that is tolerance and perseverance. Someone somewhere calling some names or having different opinions will not change the godliness or holiness of a belief.