The time when cinema screenings of films like Maula Jatt and Haseena 420 were massive hits has been relegated to the chronicles of history. While Anjuman’s gyrating thumkasand Sultan Rahi’s wild dishums attracted the masses in hordes during the heyday of cinemas, most of them are now merely deserted and dilapidated buildings.
Recently, the Punjab government has taken a shot at resuscitating the moribund centres of entertainment by converting them into theatres. The rationale given by the government? To promote healthy entertainment and performing activities. But reports of insiders contradict the apparently magnanimous intention of the authorities. They say that the government’s move is triggered by financial motives. “Currently the cinemas don’t have to pay 65 per cent entertainment tax because government had waived it off. But theatres do pay this tax. With new theatre halls the government will have more money in form of entertainment tax,” sources privy to this development revealed to The Express Tribune.
Artists and filmmakers are not happy about this decision. Filmmaker Syed Noor believes that the instead of reviving the film industry, the government was dealing it a heavy blow instead. Transforming cinemas into a venue for stage performances will kill the film industry, he maintained.
Samina Ahmad, veteran TV and stage artist and recipient of Pride of Performance, talking to The Express Tribune said, “Conversion of old cinema halls is surely a bad thing…This means a genre of entertainment is being sidelined and ignored completely”.
Ahmad claimed: “These commercial theatres are just for men. They have vulgar dances and shallow jokes which have nothing to do with the real theatre.”
“Already many cinemas have been converted into parking lots and plazas and if the government regularizes it there will be no entertainment places left for the women and children,” said the artist. “If government really wants to promote entertainment instead of earning money in form of taxes it should change the timings of the theatres.”
Other professionals in the field also concurred with this viewpoint. According to Usman Peerzada Lahore’s commercial theatre are for ‘a boy’s night out’ and needs to be checked.
“There are already many theatres in Lahore and Punjab. In fact in no part of the world, there are so many theatres,” said Chaudhary Zulfiqr Ahmad, the chairman of commercial theatres’ producers. “Commercial theatres already have problems of vulgarity and obscenity and I think government shouldn’t allow conversion or construction of new theatres.”
However, the authorities have taken some measures to deal with the spread of lewd entertainment. The Dramatic Performances Act 2011 to be introduced soon by the Punjab government will outline penalties for “scandalous, defamatory and obscene performances”. Violators can potentially get their licenses suspended up to six months, imprisonment, fine and even a ban for 90 days. Yet the authorities by giving precedence to stage art are completely ignoring the phenomenon of the dying silver screen in Pakistan. And it seems like cinema halls will continue to gather dust till their eventual demise.