A victim of commercialisation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Diminishing cinemas

Peshawar   -   Notwithstanding the pace of commercialization, several cinemas in Peshawar were bulldozed in recent years for monetary gains, depriving thousands of film lovers of infotainment services. Peshawar, once known as the city of cinemas, theaters, and artists, has started losing one of its prime entertainment tools, including decades-old cinemas, after they were mostly converted into trade and commercial plazas due to commercialization, the mushroom growth of social media, and terrorism.

Peshawar has produced many national and international legendary artists, including Bollywood superstars Yousaf Khan alias Dalip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Lollywood famous actors Qavi Khan, Ismail Shahid, Najeebullah Anjum, Javeed Babar, and Firdus Jamal. However, the city has lost seven cinemas, including those from the colonial era, due to various factors such as the lack of production of new Urdu and Pashto films, high property taxes on cinemas, security concerns, rising social media trends, and commercialization.

As many as seven cinemas out of 15 in Peshawar were razed to the ground, including the oldest cinema houses like Shabistan (Firdus), Palwasha, Capital, Falak Sair, Novelty, Metro, Sabrina, and Ihsrat, which were converted into trade and commercial centers, vis-a-vis hotels. Other cinemas, including Arshad Cinema, Sabreena, Aaeena, Naz, and Shama, are mostly deserted due to reasons like the unavailability of new films, high production costs, poor seating facilities, and the lackluster approach of the government towards the film and entertainment industry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Whenever I come from the UAE to my home city, I used to watch a Pashto movie at Firdus cinema on every Eidul Fitre celebration. I am extremely disappointed to see the demolished Firdus cinema where a trade plaza was constructed, resulting in the deprivation of thousands of entertainment fans,” said a Peshawari-born UAE transporter, Janisar Khan, while speaking to APP.

He said it was heartbreaking that still, no announcement regarding a new Pashto or Urdu film to be released on Eidul Fitre was made. “Peshawar is a home of artists and musicians. On every Eid holiday, I came to this ancient city to watch my favorite Pashto films at Arshad Cinema after the closure of two cinemas, including ‘Taj’ cinema in Mardan,” said Muhammad Ishaq (45), a Pashto film lover and resident of Katlang Mardan.

“When I visited Peshawar for my favorite ‘Titanic’ English movie and Pashto film ‘Orbal’ in my student life at Capital Cinema on Arab Road, it was jam-packed. I left with no choice but to purchase an advance ticket. It is extremely disheartening that today this oldest cinema of Peshawar is no more,” he said.

Ishaq said that he and his friends were planning to move to Rawalpindi and Lahore to watch some new movies in a relatively better cinema environment there during Eidul Fitre celebrations. Besides Peshawar, four cinemas in Nowshera also became victims of commercialization and trade, he said.

Shafiqur Rehman, a journalist, and resident of Malakand said that he came to Peshawar to watch his favorite Pashto movie as all the cinemas except Swat were closed before Ramazan, adding there was no cinema in Charsadda district.

Gohar Khan Yousafzai, manager of Sabrina Cinema Peshawar, told the news agency that before Ramazan, he screened two daily shows of a Pashto movie by charging only Rs250 per ticket, adding there were hardly 50 people in the cinema hall, which is highly discouraging. He said the rising monthly electricity and gas bills, salaries of staff, and property taxes have added to the financial difficulties of cinema owners in KP.

Shahid Khan, an eminent Pashto film director, producer, and artist, said that one of the reasons for dying cinemas was poor story content and outdated cinematography, wrong presentation of Pashto culture, and vulgarity. He said that a quality film requires around Rs 10 million investment while most film producers were being asked for production of a Pashto movie at Rs two million cost which was insufficient to produce a quality Pashto movie.

He said Pashto films have high-profit potential due to vast viewership in Pakistan, mostly in KP, Karachi, and Afghanistan. He recalled that when a Pashto film was finally released in the city in the past, thousands of film lovers with beat drums gathered outside the cinema houses and cheered in favor of their favorite hero, which is now hardly seen today in Peshawar. “Our cultural values and minimal wages discourage new talent from joining the film industry.”

Despite being affected by terrorism, he said local film producers and cinema owners remained resilient and kept cinema houses functional even in the most difficult times, providing entertainment to people. He urged the KP government to support those who believed in quality work and provide financial incentives inevitable to revive the film industry in KP.

“We urged the provincial government to exempt cinemas from excessive taxation and provide better wages to the artist community enabling them to produce quality films like Orbal, Khana Badosh, Alzam, and Deedan imperative for a knowledge-based society,” he said.

Renowned psychiatrist and former principal of Khyber Medical College, Professor Dr. Khalid Mufti, said one of the reasons for the rising trend of intolerance and violence in society was the dying cinema culture.

Terming cinema as an effective tool for nation-building and expanding the country’s soft image globally, he said that quality films have the widest impact among all art forms, including dramas, stage, and theaters.

Pride of performance and Pashto ghazals maestro Khayal Muhammad said that the revival of cinemas was imperative to promote the entertainment industry besides protecting youth from wrong hands. He admitted that social media had also adversely affected cinema culture and demanded the construction of new cinemas and the exemption of taxes and customs duties on film equipment besides job security for filmmakers, producers, and artists for the sustainable promotion of performing arts in Pakistan.

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