Cinemas in Karachi

The death of an industry


By Jamil Khan


PAKISTAN’s cinema culture is dying. Not only because of a lack of good Pakistani movies, but primarily because larger than life Bollywood has taken over ‘desi’ audiences by their precision marketing and sensational storylines. Add to that dirt cheap pirate DVD’s and VCD’s and it’s not hard to figure out why people no longer line up outside cinemas to catch a flick.

The sharp decline in ticket sales has led many cinema owners to pack up, while others are trying hard to keep the customers coming by offering something ‘extra’.

These cinema houses insert selected scenes from pornographic films during intervals at regular shows. The x-rated scenes are shown for about five to ten minutes. Aptly titled ‘double program’, these clever insertions do well in luring pleasure seeking individuals to the cinema.

Desperate to attract large crowds, these cinemas openly market their offering by advertising ‘double programs’ on the displays that adorn the cinema façade.

Despite this authorities have yet to take notice, whether they are government agencies or representatives of the show-biz industry.

Cinemas located in almost all parts of the city are brazenly involved in the practice. Some of them are located in areas such as Landhi, Malir, Korangi, Shah Faisal Colony, Nazimabad, Lyari and Saddar. Here cinema houses entertain audiences by screening western x-rated movies as well as vulgar dances to the tunes of famous Pashto and Punjabi songs. And thanks to no age restrictions on who can enter the cinema, people from all age groups can come here. The majority of the audiences are youngsters from lower and lower-middle class backgrounds who believe that the ‘double program,’ offers more bang for the buck!

Riaz, a gatekeeper at the Shabnam Cinema in Shah Faisal Colony says that people from different parts of the city come here to watch the ‘double program’ without any fear of police or other authorities concerned. According to him, some visitors also indulge in immoral activities like sodomy inside the cinema, while no one takes notice.

“One can witness in the dark corners of the cinema, young kids sitting with older men in shocking positions. They don’t even care if anybody’s looking,” says one from the audience.

Cinemas that offer the ‘double program’ usually don’t end up having good relations with film distributors and hence do not get the latest Hollywood or Bollywood movies first hand. The deteriorating state of the cinema industry is no doubt a sorrow tale. Cinema owners say that the 70’s was cinema’s golden age when there were over 100 cinema houses in Karachi. Now there are only 35.

In the last three decades Karachi has expanded significantly and the population growth has also consistently increased, but cinema owners and film makers have failed to adapt to the changing likes and tastes of a new generation. There are still those that are struggling to keep crowds coming by providing a decent environment and relatively newer films. Although the ratio of the number of visitors to the number of cinemas has decreased drastically, some cinemas have been able to survive by attracting the right crowds while screening the latest Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters. On the contrary, cinemas located in the Landhi, Korangi, North Nazimabad, Site, Lyari, Shah Faisal and other parts of the city are no less than a nuisance for the handful of visitors that go there. Visitors face a number of problems ranging from broken seats, rowdy crowds to smelly halls.

Taj Mobeen, a middle aged labourer making his way out of a cinema located on the National Highway near Malir Bridge said he had a really bad time. “I have been to various other cinemas in Saddar but this was one horrible experience, it was a pain to sit through the entire movie,” he said. Mobeen said the seats had no foam on them and were planks of wood, while the aisles were littered trash and stains of Paan.

-Published in Daily Times | Jan 18, 200

~ by jamilkhan on January 19, 2009.

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