The Demise of Awaami Cinema

Going to the movies was once a firmly middle class experience in Pakistan. Now, only a certain class can even afford to buy a ticket.

Meher Ahmad

June 11, 2019

The Demise of Awaami Cinema

When Zoaib Mansoor first started going to the movies in Karachi as a child, he was hooked. He’d pass several theaters on his walk to school and carefully examine each movie poster before skipping to the next one. “It was my main priority,” he said. “It was more important than actually getting to school.”

Mansoor chose the cinema over every other activity — while his friends went to the park or arcade, he’d spend his pocket money on the movies, from Lawrence of Arabia to dubbed Punjabi films. The movies taught Mansoor how to tell jokes in English and sing songs from old Bollywood films.   

But the era in Pakistani cinema that Mansoor describes is long gone. The majority of cinemas on his walk to school and across the city have either been left in a state of disrepair or entirely shut down and demolished.

In their place, a new crop of multiplex theaters have emerged, replete with slushie machines and reclining chairs. Award-winning Pakistani films are shown regularly, and it feels as though the film industry has finally found its footing. Cake (2018), an Oscar-nominated indie film, cast some of the country’s most talented actors in a complicated and true story about the contours of a family living in Pakistan and abroad, and garnered major buzz. Despite its relatively small budget, Laal Kabootar (2019), a crime thriller set in gritty Karachi, was featured alongside international blockbusters at theaters across the country. These multiplexes have been heralded as