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The sheer curtain of Star Cinema on M A Jinnah Road, which entertained cine-goers for over two decades, has fallen for ever. Though we may not be aware of it consciously, the fact is we have almost lost a powerful medium -cinema- that overshadows almost all the other forms of art and which otherwise could have been used for countering cultural invasion!

Now the number of cinema houses in Karachi has come down to 38. Most of the cinemas have been sold out or for that matter their owners have received bids for the 'precious assets' that are soon going to turn into shopping malls, departmental stores, modern apartments or parking lots.

Over 60 cinema houses have turned into shopping centres in 30 years.

Pakistani film industry suffered a big loss due to policies introduced during martial law regime (1977-88) which badly affected this profitable industry.

There were 110 cinema houses in Karachi in 1975. Every show of every cinema would attract packed to capacity crowds those days.

It is not an extraordinary phenomenon where the city of lights loses a significant number of cinema houses in 30 years. If we call cinema business an industry, then why the government dealt a step-motherly treatment to this otherwise prolific venture where some incentives and tax concessions could have helped this business stand on its feet.

In July 2001, the Sindh government withdrew a certain percentage of entertainment tax on the daily revenues of cinemas. The tax relief was granted only when it became apparent that a large number of cinemas would be closed. The authorities also devised a fixed-rate taxation system based on the classification of the cinemas which is as under:

Rs 2,000 on A class cinema per day (including AC); Rs 1,000 on B class cinema per day (without AC) and Rs 500 on C class cinema per day.

Karachi cinema owners say that there is no entertainment tax in Punjab.

Why we are paying taxes in Sindh? Whom should we hold responsible for this discrimination, they asked. Total tax collection is Rs 7 million annually in Sindh alone.

The government should allow exhibition of Indian films. Cinema owners are ready to pay taxes on films duly censored, helping the government to generate revenue.

With the enhancement of commercial ties between Pakistan and India and exchange of film, cultural delegations for performance in each other's countries, our cinemas would also develop and flourish. As a result the government can also earn billions of rupees.

The exhibition of Indian movies will not only create a healthy competition, but also bring people to cinema houses, which at this critical juncture need masses' support in a big way, cinema owners said.

Cinemas closed/demolished in Karachi: Mayfair (open air) was first to close down, Palace, Rex, Rio, Paradise, Capitol, Odeon, Regal, Naz, Nagina, New Majestic, Qismat, Plaza, Bambino, Eros, Rivoli, Qaisar, Godeon, Taj Mahal, Ritz, Majestic, Light House, Reno, Star, Nishat (fighting for survival), Luxury, Roxy, Super, Noor Mahal, Liberty, Relax, Reagant, Firdous, Arshi, Dilshad, Saba, Sanam, Shama, Erum, Anjuman, Chandni, Mahfil, Ambar, Badar, Chaman, Filmistan, Gulshan, Drive-in, Gulzar, Galaxy, Hollywood, Kohinoor, Khayyam, Maher, Nayab, Nairang, Nafees, Opera, Society, Shalimar and Shabana. Scala becomes theatre at night while in the morning it is used for exhibiting Pakistani films.

Cinemas closed in Hyderabad: Kohinoor, Chandni, Firdaus, Venus, Hilltop, Nishat, Noor Mahal, Elite, Odeon, Shams, Shaheen, Sangeet and Chiragh Mahal.

Lahore was once considered the hub of Pakistan film industry where hundreds of box-office hits were produced to cater for movie buffs belonging to all age groups. Over 28 of 68 cinema houses here have closed down: Rex Cinema is now Al-Hamra Hotel, Kohinoor has turned into a market, Mubarak closed and the premises is being used for charged parking. Odeon is in litigation as a case against it is awaiting court decision. Rattan also closed, Sitara, Naz, Shama and Crown have turned into theatres, Afshan closed, Lyric is now Lyric Market, Liberty is now a plaza, Erum a market, while Sangeet closed. Sanobar in main market has been renamed Empire and new machinery has been installed there. Suzu Gold is now Suzu World. Bambino and Regent are now plazas, Khayyam has been converted into a hotel, Saman now Saman Plaza, Angola a car showroom, Niagra timber market, Naila a market, Paramount has been made a wagon stand, Rivoli a plaza, Moonlite, Qaisar (famous for showing obscene films) and New Imperial City also closed.

In Rawalpindi-Islamabad, with the conversion of another cinema at Murree Road into a theatre recently, the number of cinema houses has come down to 16 as against 24 a decade ago - thanks to the video flood and low-quality films being produced in the country.

Of late, Rialto Cinema at the bank of Leh Nullah, which was established in 1960s, was the second to follow suit after Naz Cinema which offered its hall to commercial theatre last year, owing to financial crunch.

As many as four cinema houses in the city - Nadir at Satellite Town, has been turned into a marriage hall, the Imperial in congested area of the city has been converted into Imperial Market, where electronics and video business flourishes at present. Taj Mahal at City - Saddar Road has also been converted into a hardware and sanitary centre while Melody Queen Noor Jehan's Sangeet Cinema off Murree Road has also been demolished. The cinema has been leased out to a private company which intends to build commercial plaza and residential flats on the site.

There were 24 cinema houses in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi a decade ago. These were Naz, (now a commercial theatre) Shabistan, Gulistan, Moti Mahal, Rialto, (now a commercial theatre) Sangeet (commercial plaza) on main Murree Road, Rawalpindi. Besides Kehkashan, Rose, Novelty, Khurshid, PAF Cinema, Askari, Rex Cinema, are located at various sites in the city while Odeon, Plaza, Capital and Cirose are in the Cantonment areas.

The Imperial Cinema now Imperial Market, houses video and electronics shops. Rose Cinema at Fawara Chowk, is situated in the congested area of the city.

Moti Mahal, off Murree Road, owned by former Member National Assembly Malik Mahbub, once the best cinema with two galleries, has also lost its luster as the present contractor is exhibiting old English films only.

Novelty in Kashmiri Bazar and Khurshid at Jamia Murad Road are known for Pushto films. The Odeon, Plaza, Cirose exhibit English films while Capital in the Cantonment area is also showing old English and Urdu films from time to time, failing to draw crowds.

Taj Mahal at Jinnah Road, which was once an attraction for the film-goers, has been converted into a commercial plaza by its owners. Presently it is the centre of hardware business.

The A-class cinema houses in Pindi include Gulistan, Shabistan and Kehkashan are known for exhibiting new films while others buying only cheaper films to meet the cinema expenses.

Tasveer Mahal in Lalkurti is hardly meeting the requirements of the people living in the vicinities of Lalkahzar, Dheri Hassanabad and Dhamial. Armed forces Qasim Cinema is also situated here. The situation in other cities is no different.

The government had recently announced Rs 50 million for establishment of 'Punjab Film City,' which the people associated with this industry described a cruel joke with this already depleting entity.

Cinema owners rightly blame video, dish antenna and cable TV for weaning people away from cinema. They said violation of copy right acts (practically not in vogue) with impunity is responsible for this destruction. The film released in India is available in Pakistan the same day on cable TV. So why would anyone spend money and precious time on venturing out and watching film on big screen.

The monster of piracy has gulped our cinema business so much so that anyone can go and watch a brand new action-packed Hollywood or Indian hit in a 'Jhonpara Hotel' over a cup of tea.

Another circle opines that the chief factor responsible for this catastrophic situation for cinemas is the production of low-standard movies laden with scenes of vulgarity and projection of a culture that doesn't really exist and is quite far off from reality. Where are those long queues that movie buffs used to form to see family movies in Pakistani cinemas.

Shortage of latest film-making equipment is major problem for our film industry, which is hampering the production of qualitative movies.

The business of pirated CDs is another factor that has dragged cinema business to cul-de-sac. The government should take note of this menace. One can not stop technological advancement but one can stop the spread of pirated movies. Besides remedial measures on the part of the authorities, our producers, directors and film-makers also need to launch movies on contemporary and good subjects to attract masses.

It is a fact that the number of cine-goers had come down drastically in recent years. However, if good movies were made, it would bring more people to cinema houses.

Neighbouring India is no doubt a big market, having largest circuit. India's film industry hub Bombay is called 'Bollywood' for its name is referred after 'Hollywood' in the United States. Since most of the films in Pakistan are produced and shot in Lahore, therefore, ours is called 'Lollywood.' Pakistan produces some 60 films a year for an annual turnover of over Rs 120 million while India produces 800 films with an annual turnover of $2 billion.

Film industries around the globe are courting prolific Bollywood after realising that the Indian song-and-dance movies can yield long-term dividends by drawing tourists to the locales of their favourite hits.

It clearly shows that we have no standing on the horizon of world cinema. As our movies and stars are not considered fit for movies of international repute.

Pakistan Film Producers Associations says, as may as 1,500 cinema houses across the country have been closed down largely due to the failure of the local film industry to compete with the world-class films.

According to estimates, a cinema house keeps 40-man workforce. It means over 50,000 people have been rendered jobless so far.

Only two Urdu films were released in 2004. 'Blockbuster' has been quite atypical of our film industry for years.

Leading writers and artists of the country should come forward and support this ailing industry. Film directors and producers also have to play a crucial role. Bad patches come.

So long as there is life there is struggle. Get up and face it. Don't give up hope and continue struggle.

But remember, if there is no cinema, there is no film industry!

Copyright Business Recorder, 2004

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