A burnt film reel. — Photo by Muhammad Umar

On this day today: Karachi's iconic Nishat Cinema was set ablaze

We explore Nishat Cinema's golden era and it's unfortunate demise in this series of photographs
Updated Sep 21, 2015 03:42pm

In the heart of the city of lights, Nishat Cinema was long held in distinct regard as an iconic symbol of Karachi's thriving culture.

Unfortunately, on this very day in 2012 Nishat Cinema was set ablaze amidst violent protests against a purportedly anti-Islamic short-film called Innocence of Muslims that aired on YouTube. The short film was neither filmed for the big screen nor was it ever aired in Pakistan yet protestors unleashed their wrath on poor Nishat, and set ablaze six cinemas in Peshawar and Karachi besides. Nishat Cinema has not regained its previous glory and remains a charred icon of Karachi’ s vibrant past.

Situated on M. A. Jinnah Road (formerly known as Bandar Road), it was constructed during the British Raj by a Hindu businessman. He owned 2 cinema houses adjacent to each other called Krishna and Radha, named after his children. During Partition, the owner opted for newly independent India and the cinemas became evacuee properties.

People throng to see 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' which was released in 1958. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan
People throng to see 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' which was released in 1958. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan

Caught up in the trend to change the names of popular landmarks to Muslim-sounding names, Krishna became Nishat and Radha was renamed Naz. After Partition, the Kandawallas acquired Nishat Cinema, as it was right next to their head office in the Godrej Kandawalla building. Nishat Cinema was then re-inaugurated by Fatima Jinnah on 25th December 1947 and the first screening held on its premises was of the Indian film Doli by S. K. Ojha.

Coloured film 'Dawn of Islam' screened at the cinema. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan
Coloured film 'Dawn of Islam' screened at the cinema. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan

“In 1963, when the Kandawallas needed money to invest in their jeep assembly plant, Naya Daur, they sold Nishat Cinema to Yusuf and Hakim Mandviwalla for PKR 1.6 million. It was actually Jagjit Anand, a renowned film distributor, who prompted Yusuf Mandviwalla to buy Nishat Cinema, extending a loan of PKR 800,000 to cover the shortfall. "Up until 1968 Jagjit Anand was solely responsible for running the cinema,” says Nadeem Mandviwalla.

Hollywood classics 'Gold Raiders' and 'Thunder' up for viewing at Nishat. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan
Hollywood classics 'Gold Raiders' and 'Thunder' up for viewing at Nishat. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan

After the 1965 war Indian films were banned in Pakistan; Nishat continued to screen mostly Pakistani films till 1972. Nishat operated with flat screen technology and only when cinemascope was introduced in 1971 did the film quality significantly increase. This ushered in a period when Nishat became a pioneer in the cinema industry in Pakistan. It set the trend for the latest technologies and kickstarted the use of digital surround sound. It was a prominent and considerably up-to-date cinema that attracted the popular and the fashionable.

Sylvester Stallone's 'Rambo: First Blood Part II' (1985) was shown in cinema. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan
Sylvester Stallone's 'Rambo: First Blood Part II' (1985) was shown in cinema. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan

Refurbishments of the cinema were planned for 1971 but the release of two iconic Pakistani films, Mera Humsafar and Dil Aur Duniya pushed the renovation plans to 1972 as both films played to packed audiences for a year.

'Universal Soldier' (1992) screened at the cinema after its release. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan
'Universal Soldier' (1992) screened at the cinema after its release. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: The Citizens Archives of Pakistan

“After 1972 Nishat started playing mostly Hollywood feature films. Javed Sheikh’ s 1996 film Chief Saab ran for twenty-five weeks acquiring a silver jubilee record. The longest playing film in Nishat Cinema was Neal Israel’ s 1985 American comedy Moving Violations that ran for twenty-seven weeks,” says Nadeem Mandviwalla.

Over the decades Nishat Cinema has been a prominent part of Pakistani popular culture — it's indeed sad to see a landmark destroyed as it has.

Inside of the cinema hall shows burnt chairs. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
Inside of the cinema hall shows burnt chairs. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
Burnt remains of animated film Rio can be seen amid the ashes. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
Burnt remains of animated film Rio can be seen amid the ashes. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
Piles of poster turned to ashes. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
Piles of poster turned to ashes. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
Stacks of burnt film reels lie in the store room. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
Stacks of burnt film reels lie in the store room. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
View of the burnt gallery. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil
View of the burnt gallery. —Photo courtesy: Khaula Jamil

Text by Aaliyah Tayyebi, Senior Project Manager, OHP and EFC The Citizens Archive of Pakistan. Old Nishat Cinema photographs from the archives of The Citizens Archive of Pakistan. Current Nishat Cinema photographs by ©Khaula Jamil/The Citizens Archive of Pakistan