Once a booming industry, the cinema culture is dying out in Hyderabad
Some decades ago, every city in Pakistan was familiar with the cinema culture. Cinema-goers could be found in metropolitan cities and small towns alike. It was an affordable source of entertainment. Throngs of people would queue up to watch new releases, making for some memorable night shows in cinema halls. Indian, Pakistani and English movies were shown on the big screen. At some point, going to the cinema lost its charm, resulting in a decline for cinema culture.
Hyderabad was once famous for its cinema houses. There were more than 20 operational venues during its heyday. Only a single cinema, Bambino, has survived the decline in cinema’s popularity. Bambino cinema was established in 1974 by a Syed family, who owned similar facilities in Karachi and other cities in Sindh.
The origin of the ‘cinema’ can be traced back to Berlin, where a silent film was screened in 1905. Shortly afterwards, it became a booming industry that revolutionised filmmaking and brought it under the banner of creative arts.
Bambino Cinema in Hyderabad used to be a famed venue for families to enjoy films in a community setting. Currently, it is going through a difficult time due to a lack of maintenance and declining revenue.
Kazim Shah, the manager, says, “We are going through a tough period. If anyone wants to purchase the cinema, we are ready to sell as soon as possible. The cinema has no earning and I do not see any hope.” Kazim has been in the business for nearly 40 years.
“Unfortunately we are not getting good footfall at the cinema. Bambino cinema was at its peakuntil 1986. In those days, it ran jam packed shows. The phenomenon was often described as khirrki torr rush. People used to book their seats in advance despite the high prices. We sold our first ticket for just 10 rupees. There were some film-obsessed people who used to buy the same tickets for 100 rupees. Now we are selling tickets for just 200 rupees.”
Kazim says that cable TV and mobile phones are the main reason for the downfall of conventional cinema. Most people have easy access to films through these devices and TV ownership has become commonplace.
Bambino Cinema has the capacity to accommodate 800 people. Currently it hosts just 20-30 visitors. Kazim says that the cinema used to employ 30 people back in its prosperous days. Now there are just 10 employees left. Kazim says he was once offered a government job but turned it down hoping for a revival of the cinema. He says he regrets his decision now.
Bambino used to have four dedicated poster making artists. Now, there are none. Some of them hae passed away; others have lost their jobs. Nowadays, the cinema imports posters from Lahore.
Riaz Ahmed is a regular moviegoer. He says he has visited all the cinema houses in Hyderabad. According to Riaz: “There are only two cinemas that have survived in Hyderabad; one is Bambino and the other is Shuhab. In my youth, I used to watch every movie at the cinema. English, Indian and Pakistani movies were my favourite. In those days people were not familiar with the video cassette recorders (VCRs). Watching films at the cinema was the norm.”
Riaz adds: “I often go to the cinema hall along with some friends, but feel pity when I see the deteriorated condition of Bambino Cinema. I recall the days when every cinema hall was full of movie lovers. Today, Bambino look like an abandoned child. If we want to revive the cinema culture in Hyderabad; we must restore the cinema houses first.”
The old projector for the big screen still exists, but it has been out of use and has been replaced by a computer-based system. The sound system and other equipment have been disposed of.
Naseer Mirza is a writer and former Radio Pakistan-Hyderabad station director. He recalls witnessing the cinema boom in Hyderabad in his youth.
“When people started watching films on VCR, it made them less interested in cinema. The VCR was a cheaper source of entertainment as compared to cinema. Soon, VCR rentals became common,” he says.
“I remember that cinemas suffered heavy losses under Zia ul Haq. The film heroines had to appear fully covered. If they wore a trouser and a shirt they had to be in the role of a non-Muslim woman. The Zia regime was the death of film arts, as well as the cinema culture,” Naseer tells The News on Sunday.
“Filmmaking was considered a sin under Zia and people started selling their film studios. Several studios in Lahore have been turned into junk yards. The classic heroines of Pakistani cinema have died. There is no replacement for Noor Jahan, Shamim Ara, Shabnum and Zeba,” he says.
Mirza still visits Bambino Cinema because it reminds him of the good old days. Several other cinema houses have been replaced by residential complexes. Despite an increase in population, cinema owners find themselves helpless. Many have sold their venues. Naseer Mirza points out: “The modern age belongs to cineplexes and Netflix.“
The story of Bambino Cinema is sad. It signifies the loss of a cultural venue in Hyderabad. Those who have lived through the height of cinema culture know how important these venues were for breathing life into the city. All they can do now is reminisce about the days.
The writer is a regular contributor at TNS