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Let’s Go To The Movies!
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By Shagufta Naaz   

Shagufta NaazGrowing up in the Karachi of the late 70s-early 80s was like growing up on a whole different planet — a different universe even. It was a dreary place with no concept of Internet, cell phones (heck, even landlines were rare), malls or fast food franchises. How we ever survived is a question our children might mull over, if they can focus their attention on anything that takes more than five seconds, but we did have a few things going for us.

Karachi Municipal AquariumThere was Funland (and Playland) and the small but delightful aquarium. There was that firm standby of Karachiites through the ages — the beach (with all the boating, crabbing and picnics that went with it); there were video game arcades, Kings & Queens pizza and Tit Bits book stall. And then there was the VCR.

You see, by the 80s, the culture of going to the cinema had gone the way of the dinosaurs (or democracy, to use a more relevant example); simply put, it just didn’t exist anymore, at least not for the kinds of people you hung out with. So you turned to the next best thing, the VCR.

Clifton FunlandNow, that’s not to say one actually owned a VCR; very few people were that lucky. But everyone knew someone who knew someone who was related to a guy who could lend or at least rent you a machine for a day, or a weekend. And so the great VCR fests came into being. Basically you went to an undercover video shop (undercover because they were actually illegal unless they carried only Pakistani films or Pakistani-Censor-Board-approved English movies. As no one in their right mind wasted their precious VCR hours on those, these shops basically survived on their illicit stock of Hindi movies) and stocked up on enough films to keep a cinema in business for a week.

No matter that the prints were pirated, the picture grainy and the film interspersed with ads extolling the virtues of Vicco Turmeric Ayurvedic Cream; it was enough that we got to watch our favorite hero and sexiest heroine gyrating to the latest super-hit songs, of which we would then run out and buy an audio cassette (remember those?) The idea of being able to watch these movies on the big screen in a dark theater never even crossed our minds; it was one of those things that were never going to happen.

Fast forward to the 90s and suddenly Titanic swept us, willy nilly, into a new era; though we didn’t know it then, cinema had just been handed a new lease on life. Mission Impossible you say? Not for King Kong or James Bond. In fact, even local directors stepped up to the plate and delivered movies like Inteha (a movie on domestic violence and marital rape, which, not surprisingly, didn’t do much for the crowds), Jeeva and Deewane Tere Pyaar Ke.

But it was 2006 that became the year of the revival of cinema; the year when Shoaib Mansoor delivered his superb debut, Khuda Ke Liye. Suddenly going to cinema was the in thing to do and it was rather nice to see people from the ‘right’ side of the bridge drive all the way to downtown cinema halls to be part of Karachi’s movie history.

Of course, we couldn’t expect them to do this on a regular basis — their tires would have worn out — so they started to make tracks for the new Cineplex, conveniently located at the beach. With four theaters under the same roof, a Cineplex was an exciting new concept for Karachiites, though real movie aficionados turned up their nose at the tiny (comparatively speaking) screens and small halls.

Indian movies finally made it across the border after a hiatus of almost four decades, and proceeded to fill the coffers of the dying cinemas; My Name is Khan apparently earned the Pakistani box office Rs 21,658,000 in the very first week — a high water mark that no one could beat until Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol raked in an unprecedented Rs 47,217,600 in the first two weeks. So much for all those who said screening Indian movies would spell the death of Pakistani film industry.

Atrium Cinemas

Rising to the occasion, the few old cinemas still left standing made an effort to spruce themselves up (last reported even the ladies’ room of the now refurbished Nishat is spotless clean) and people started to think in terms of “let’s catch the three o’clock show” instead of “let’s get stoned” (well ok, now they get stoned after the movie). So much so that now, Atrium Cinemas, the bright new, shining multiplex — located not in the ‘posh’ area but in the heart of downtown Karachi — is the hottest (or coolest, depending on which slang is in) place to be.

The 11 o’clock show on a Monday morning is sold out; so is the 1 AM (yes AM) show on a weeknight. The crowd is as mixed as Karachi’s famous chaat and everyone is having a good time, be it watching Harry Potter, X-Men or the latest Katrina Kaif sizzler.

Yes, there was a bomb blast in the city yesterday and there may be another disaster tomorrow; but for this moment in time there’s peace and if there’s one thing Karachiites know, it’s how to live in the moment.

If anyone’s in the market for a second-hand VCR, let me know.

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