IT is heartening to learn that where in Pakistan there are elements ready and willing to set out to destroy, there are others prepared to show resilience in the face of adversity. When out-of-control violence accompanied protests against a religiously offensive film last month, amongst the victims were several of the country’s already few cinemas. Three cinemas were burned down in Peshawar, and in Karachi six were ransacked and reduced to ashes, including the venerable Nishat, Capri, Prince and Bambino. In many cases, owners watched damage worth tens of millions being inflicted on their properties as enraged young men engaged in arson — in some cases, where fire department authorities initially managed to bring the blaze under control, repeatedly, until they succeeded. A number of owners told newspapers later that in view of the scale of the damage, the lack of support from the government and the fact that such incidents could well happen again, they saw few chances of rebuilding. In this dim scenario, the proprietors of Bambino Cinema are indeed showing steely resolve in restarting operations. Having spent millions on restoring part of the cinema hall (the damage to the façade is so extensive that it will take more than a year to repair), the doors are to be opened to the public today. Reportedly, Capri also intends to restart operations.
These businesses ought to be offered support by the government, if not financially then at the very least from the security angle. It is odd to have to think of a cinema as a ‘sensitive installation’, but the violence cited above is not the only one of its kind to have occurred. In 2003, when protesters burnt down Melody, Islamabad was left a capital city without a single cinema. It is hard to understand why venues that exist solely to divert and delight attract violence — and that too from the very people who benefit, for these are cinemas where ticket prices are relatively affordable. Regardless, they are deserving of special protection. The cinema culture should be promoted as too intrinsic a part of the country’s cultural fabric to be lost in this manner.