Nishat Cinema in Karachi closes down
By Khurrum Anis
KARACHI: Nishat Talkies, a cinema inaugurated by Fatima Jinnah, has closed and its owners have applied for permission to build a plaza in its place.
“The cinema is not showing any movies. We’ve closed,” said Nadeem Mandviwalla, managing director of Mandviwalla Entertainment. “Other cinemas owners are preparing to do the same.” Mr Mandviwalla said the decision to close was a desperate one, but that he had no other choice. “The first step is to cut staff by fifty percent. Then you turn off the air-conditioning in the halls, and after that it’s the rest of the staff,” he said.
Nishat Cinema, as it is more popularly known, follows the fate of Star Cinema, which closed this March, and a host of other less prominent cinemas that have been devastated by the lack of interest in Pakistani movies.
Nishat was one of the best-known cinemas in Karachi and inaugurated by Fatima Jinnah on December 25, 1947. “The first movie shown when the cinema was opened was PN Arora’s ‘Doli’, which starred Wasti, Solouchna Chatterjee and Jayant in the leading roles,” Mr Mandviwalla said. Until 1972, the cinema showed only Urdu-language movies. It was then renovated and began showing English movies.
Nishat Talkies was constructed by Godrej Kandawalla, who leased the building to H Hussain and Company. “My father Hakeem Mandviwalla bought the house in 1963, and through an agreement with Jagdish Anand of Eveready Pictures, played his movies till 1972. In 1972, he renovated the building installing a cinemascope, meaning the big screen. The first English movie we played after the renovation was ‘Samson and Delilah’,” Mr Mandviwalla said. He took over the cinema house in 1985 and became sole owner in 1987 after the death of his father.
The cinema, having been around as long as Pakistan itself, was considered a landmark in Karachi. “The cinema has been without a signboard since 1990. I had taken it down to have it fixed but then forgot about it. After a few years, it hit me that the signboard was down, but then I noticed that it didn’t matter. People knew where it was. I made it a point not to put it up,” Mr Mandviwalla said.
Mandviwalla Entertainment Director Rehmat Karim Fazli, who has been with the cinema for a long time, said that in 1972 the price of a gallery seat was three rupees and seventy-five paisas. Gallery seats for the last movie shown cost Rs 100. “We had dignitaries from the late prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan to Fatima Jinnah to Hossein Suharwardy. All came here,” Mr Rehmat said. He said Fatima Jinnah came to the premier of ‘Chiraagh jalta raha,’ an FA Karim Fazli movie.
Mr Mandviwalla said he has applied for permission to build a plaza in the cinema’s place. “We will start the construction as soon as the permission is given,” he said. He hoped to receive an okay in a couple of months.
Mr Mandviwalla accused the government of failing to redress cinema owners’ grievances. Cinema owners have been pushing the government to remove a ban on Indian movies, which they feel is the only thing that can save the industry. Governments both federal and provincial have yet to acquiesce. Cinema owners protested on March 26, hanging big black banners outside their theatres and demanding the government, especially President Pervez Musharraf, take note.
“The March 26 protest was a deadline we had given ourselves. We decided then that if the government failed to listen to us, we would start packing up,” Mr Mandviwalla said. “The government is even thinking of abolishing the entertainment tax on cinemas, which was Rs 2,000 per day. Imagine, cinema houses cannot even afford this tax.”
Riaz Malik, chairman of the Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association (PFEA), says the Sindh government has promised to abolish the entertainment tax. “The Punjab government has abolished their entertainment tax and we hope our government does the same in a week. I have met our finance minister and he has promised me that the tax will be abolished,” he said.
Mr Malik, however, reiterated that allowing Indian films was the only measure that could save cinemas from closure. “Nishat has followed Star Cinema and that is because of bad business. The import of Indian films is the only answer to our problems.” Mr Malik said the Punjab films exhibitors association was going on strike from next month, but that the exhibitors in Sindh believed in talks rather than strikes. “We want to give the Sindh government time to rethink their measures,” he said.
“We need Indian movies because Chinese and English films are not helping us. Also the standard of our local movies, especially those in Urdu, is so bad they hardly attract anyone, which is why we need Indian films,” he said. He said only five or six Urdu films would be released in the coming season, “which goes to show the extent of our problems”.
Nevertheless, he said the abolition of entertainment tax “give cinema owners some more time to breathe”. He said his meeting with higher government official in Islamabad was disrupted because of the government change. “I will be going there again once the new government settles in,” he said.