Karachi’s Cinema Culture (1950 – 1980)

Compiled by Nurjehan Mawaz-Khan

  • There was a hugely popular cinema culture in Karachi, especially between the 1950s and the 1980s. Cinemas were to be found in every locality – Saddar, Landhi, Orangi, Korangi, Malir, Mauripur, North Karachi, Nazmabad, Federal Areas, Nursery, Drigg Road (Shahrah-e-Feysal) and even at each of the naval bases: Bahadur, Dilawar, Dakiar, Hamaliya, Karsaz and Shafa. Dock workers and natives of Manora Island (traversed by boat and) went to the Nagina cinema at Kemari. Clifton was the only area without a cinema.
    A lot of cinemas ran movies up till their silver, golden (Ek Tera Sahara, Qaidi, Eid Mubarak) and platinum (Ashiana, Armaan, Heera Aur Pathhar) jubilees. Even English movies ran for months on end such as Come September that played at the Rio for six months.
  • The most recent cinemas to have opened are the Cineplex at Sea View in September 2003 and the Atrium Mall/ Cinemas in late 2010.
    The first cinema to have opened in Karachi was the Star on Bunder Road in 1917-18.
    The first cinema to have opened here pre-Partition was the Jubilee on Marston Road.
    The largest cinemas were Prince (Garden Road) and Rio (Saddar) with capacities of 1392 and 1110 seats respectively and the smallest were Princess (Bunder Road) and Scala (Garden Road) with capacities of 132 and 144 seats respectively.
    In 1977, at the height of Karachi’s cinema culture, there were 136 cinemas- today there are 35.
  • Decorum and etiquette were shown on the parts of both the cinema-goers and the cinema management: standards of cleanliness and courtesy were up kept, standards that are largely forgotten today. Cinemas were well-ventilated, at times air-conditioned, clean and well-maintained- there were relatively wholesome snacks on offer and one could also bring food from home if preferred. People would ‘speak softly, laugh whole-heartedly and cry quietly…not like the situation prevailing now…’ Cinema rules pertaining to age limits and punctuality were strict and even a five-minute late entry was forbidden in most cinema halls.
  • Karachi was the capital of Pakistan and its cinemas thus entertained political patrons through the decades. In 1962, Bambino cinema on Garden Road had a special showing of Lawrence of Arabia for Pakistan’s first military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan, and his cabinet.
    In 1964, the Capitol in Saddar showed The Sign of a Gladiator- one amongst many movies that the entire Bhutto family went to watch together.
  • There were enough cinemas to cater to a variety of film genres and language preferences.
    Some examples are: Nishat and Plaza- Urdu; Godeon and Scala- English; Lighthouse- Pakhtoon; Regal- Indian releases; Palace- comedies; Capitol- war, Roman and Victorian eras’ movies; Paradise- action; Rex- drama and comedy; Ritz- Kung Fu and Karate.
  • Multiple cinemas tended to exist in the same area: In the Garden Road area, Bambino was constructed next to Lyric and soon after the exclusive Scala opened up in the same vicinity- a mini hall offering velvet covered seats and unconventional English movies; it was the same on Marston Road near Misquita Gardens where Plaza Quarters (alternately known as ‘Cinema Lane’ in the 1960s) housed the Godeon, Eros and later the grand Rivoli furnished with the same velvet reclining seats, air-conditioning and ‘an ambience of grandeur’, the Kohinoor, too, was located around the corner from ‘Cinema Lane’. Rio was located right next to the open-air cinema Kismet, Paradise cinema was considered the Capitol’s twin and Reno cinema stood right across the road from the Plaza.
  • Drive-in cinemas were immensely popular. Some of them were Nairang in Liaquatabad, Mussarat in Nazmabad, Shirin in Korangi, Kismet in Saddar and Dreamland, the first to open in Karachi (in 1970 near the Drigg Road Railway Station), which in turn had two more drive-in cinemas across it. The Murree Drive In cinema on University Road could accommodate 700 cars.
    “The (Dreamland) theatre’s car park having a chained (with a mini pole) speaker was affixed on the window of driver’s side…and it was well-synchronised with the screen image to provide clarity of sound and had the facility of low and high volume selection.”
  • After 1980 some cinema halls like the Rex were converted into auditoriums, others were demolished to create two cinema halls instead of one, such as the Majestic cinema on Bunder Road which left the King and Queen cinemas in its stead, and Nairang cinema which was converted into Mizraab and Venus cinemas. By and large the majority of cinemas in Karachi were demolished to create mall/ office/ wedding venue space that would generate higher income. The same was the case with the open-air cinemas that were built over for the same reason.

Information compiled from:

Raju Jamil’s online blog on Gupshup Café at Paklinks.com: ‘Aah..the cinema halls of Karachi’ at http://www.paklinks.com/gs/blogs/arjay/61691-aah-the-cinema-halls-of-karachi-i-may-never-forget.html

Raju Jamils article ‘The Cinema houses that are no more’ in Images@Dawn 25 July 1999

Pakistan Film Magazine on Mazhar.dk

For a complete list of Cinemas running and closed in Karachi visit:

Pakistan Film Magazine on Mazhar.dk

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