THE road to development in Pakistan is replete with statements defining our goals. Our heritage continues to cave in under the force of our current priorities. The Odeon cinema on the Mall in Rawalpindi is one example of our priorities. In the normal course of affairs, the cinema would have found reason to celebrate its 120th birth anniversary this year. Instead, shops are to replace the old landmark that is governed by a trust run by the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board. An official has told Dawn that the plans include a cinema hall on the third floor and the proceeds from the commercial plaza will be spent on educational institutions. This is a noble thought – except that a lawyer points out the status of the cinema and an adjoining library and park cannot be changed since it has been so determined in the trust document.
Cinema houses have fallen all over the country. Rawalpindi alone had a score of them before commercial sense prevailed and shops or weddings halls replaced them. The audiences had thinned out drastically and very few films were being made in the country. Many thought that these cinema halls, commercial ventures of their times, had outlived their utility. This is a strong argument – just as are the calls seeking the preservation of culture and cultural centres without which life becomes a one-dimensional ride through the market. If development is inevitable, cultural development is also essential and it must be based on past cultural experiences, on heritage. What is desperately required is a counter statement to the current urge to turn the world we live in into a shop. The fact that the Odeon is not owned by an individual or an organisation and enjoys the protection of a trust should, theoretically at least, make its preservation easier.