Thursday 27 December 2012

The end: Shabistan cinema draws charred curtains

23:12 By Lollywood Online

PESHAWAR: Ravaged by the fires fuelled by an angry mob protesting over the blasphemous film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on September 21, the curtain has now fallen on the historic Shabistan Cinema.
The decades-old theatre situated along Grand Trunk (GT) Road near Jinnah Park shows no signs of the glamour it once exuded. The gate is shut and labourers can be seen razing its structure down brick by brick. A placard with a phone number near the gate reads: ‘Contact for purchasing bricks.’
Inside, the main hall is littered with bricks and metal beams, while the second floor has rolls of film strewn around in one corner. The walls, which are blackened by soot, are perhaps the gravest reminder of what happened on that day in September.
Labourers demolishing the structure are seemingly unaware of what the cinema represented in the past and what the future holds for it.
“Demolishing work is in progress for the past two weeks. First the roof was demolished and we are now tearing down the walls. We do not know anything about the owners and their plans,” said a worker at the site.
The person whose number is inscribed on the placard at the gate also expressed ignorance over whether the cinema was being demolished or reconstructed. “You better contact the owners, they have a business on Yadgar Chowk,” said the man who identified himself as Sher.
Aftab Sabri
The cinema’s former owner Aftab Sabri said he sold the building around a month ago.
When asked what was in store for the place now, Sabri said it was up to the new owners to use the property whichever way they like. “It is very unlikely that they will construct another cinema after demolishing its structure; and a plaza or market will probably be constructed in its place.”
“It was gutted beyond repair. Machinery, screen, roof – everything was destroyed,” said Sabri, adding that the damages amounted to millions of rupees.
Sabri said rebuilding the structure required a huge investment and since there is no guarantee it will not be torched again, he decided to sell it off instead. “Previously, it (the building) was on rent. I took over the cinema in the 1970’s.”
Shabistan over the years
Work on Shabistan Cinema was first initiated in 1946 by a prominent businessman of the time, Agha Jee Gul.
In the words of Mohammad Ibrahim Zia, a cultural enthusiast who conducted painstaking research on Peshawar’s actors in Bollywood, Shabistan was the first modern cinema opened after the creation of Pakistan.
“Its canteen was spacious and Syed Habib Shah, a leading art director of Lollywood, adorned one of its walls with a beautiful painting of Omar Khayyam’s quatrain,” recalled Zia.
He said the owners first planned to show ‘Jugnoo’ starring Dilip Kumar and Noor Jehan at the time of its opening, but ended up showing another film ‘Mehendi’ due to the non-availability of the former’s print.
End of cinemas in Peshawar?
Shabistan is the latest in a series of cinemas closed down in the provincial capital over the past few years. Novelty and Palwasha cinemas were demolished a few years earlier and multi-storied buildings were constructed in their place.
Falaksair Cinema was also demolished to make way for a plaza despite being termed a protected heritage site under the Federal Antiquities Act.
September 21 was, however, the worst day for the city’s cinemas. Angry mobs torched four theatres: Shabistan, Naz and Shama in the city limits and Capital Theatre in cantonment limits.
But while the others slowly got up to their feet and restarted operations, the fate of Shabistan was not as fortunate.
With the closure of Shabistan, the number of cinemas in Peshawar has decreased to eight.
“It is sad that a city whose artists reigned over Bollywood and illuminated the art scene of the world is gradually being devoid of art itself,” lamented Dr Adil Zareef, a member of the Sarhad Conservation Network.


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