“Let’s avoid Lyari”, he told me
I did not say anything but crossing next to Crown Cinema, I slowed my car and parked it right in front of the cinema. He had to oblige.
The gate was shut. We knocked on it vehemently.
A fragile baluchi man opened the gate.
We told him the purpose of our visit. He did not complaint on showing up out of the blue and let us in.
“Is it operational?”, I asked
The baluchi gatekeeper did not understand and my escort interpreted it in Baluchi.
“The last show was in Ramadan. After that we have not got enough people for a show”, he said with an emotionless face
The cinema was well in operational condition. It was neat, clean and well maintained. There was a charpai in the main hall probably used by the gatekeeper. I walked inside the ticket counter. There was a chai ka mug lying on the counter. Dirty and empty. A plastic shield separated the counter from the hall. There was a ladies toilet next to it. There was a veiled lady painted above the door to clear any doubt that it was a ladies toilet. I wondered when was the last time a lady used that toilet.
“Can we go inside the cinema hall” I politely asked the chowkidar
He nodded and walked to the door. He opened it but we could not see a thing inside as it was pitch-dark. There was no electricity. The frequent shutdowns have contributed in shrinking the margins for running a cinema as well. Even if the owners could afford a generator, the variable costs of running them on diesel squeeze business out of going concern margins.
The chowkidar lit the torch and walked to the big exit door. He struggled with it for a bit but managed to open it. The noon sunshine lit the floor. The desolate state of the hall was apparent. Still in working condition but the benches were broken and the stage was in shambles. The hall would have been magnificent in its glory days. It would have shamed the new multiplexes built in Clifton and Defence. It was not to be anymore. We could see the projector room on the far end of the second floor. We saw the shadows move. There must be someone there.
“I want to see the projector room”, I said controlling my excitement
The chowkidar led us to the staircase. There was entrance to the gallery on first floor. It was huge. More than hundred people could have been accommodated. I estimated. There was an empty counter with Pepsi logos painted on it. They must have sold pop corns and soft drinks there. We moved to the second floor to see the projector room. The fear struck me. What if there is a criminal hiding there. The cinema has been in news for all the wrong reasons lately as dead bodies have been dumped around it not a very long time ago. My escort laughed at my concern. Lyari has been peaceful lately. He assured me. We walked to the tiny space on second floor. Few sand buckets were hanging on the side and few nonfunctional projectors were lying in the corridor. A man was cleaning the projector room. He did not say a word and kept busy. Two big ancient projectors though still in good shape were used for projecting movies on the screen below. Chowkidar or the cleaning guy did not know anything about the equipment.
We walked back to the gate with heavy heart. It is a beautiful building and outlet in an entertainment deprived area. Why is it suffering from public indifference? I wondered. Maybe it’s too expensive to buy movie copyrights or maybe its availability of pirated movies on dvds and torrents which has killed the business for the cinema. Maybe it’s the security situation. There could be umpteen reasons. But it will break many hearts when this place shuts for good.