THERE has been much talk of late about the ‘revival’ of Pakistani cinema. Indeed, the last few years have seen an increasing number of locally produced films being released. Several have met with acclaim for tackling unconventional themes. However, unlike before, this new cinema is not entertainment for the masses. A report in this paper last week described how the once thriving cinema culture in Hyderabad, Sindh, has seen a decline despite the number of cineplexes coming up — or even because of them. Until the mid-1990s, there were 21 cinemas in the city where films from Hollywood and Bollywood were screened and the very reasonably priced tickets were affordable for even the lower-income segment of society.
Those days, however, are long gone. And not only in Hyderabad, but in other urban centres as well. Some old-style cinema houses, with their retro interiors and single screens, fell into disrepair as the Pakistani film industry, for a number of reasons — including lack of official patronage — stuttered to a virtual halt. Several, particularly in Karachi, were destroyed in public disturbances as the political climate grew more turbulent. At times, in a telling — if inadvertent — commentary on the priorities of our governing authorities, many closed cinema houses were razed and the spaces they occupied given over to shopping plazas. In the post-celluloid era, spanking new multiplexes with the capacity to screen four or more films simultaneously sprang up. But the glitz comes with pricey tickets that exclude the average citizen from this form of entertainment that was traditionally much more egalitarian in terms of who could partake of it. How far can a revival of cinema truly be so when it caters only to the privileged few? Surely the state and society must find creative ways to expand the reach of the latest brand of films so they can be accessed by a wide spectrum of the populace. Going to the movies need not be an elite activity.