Rising from the ashes: Capri Cinema
Think of this story as a sequel to a blockbuster. One whose preceding part dangled on a cliffhanger.
We know the characters. We’re familiar with the backstory. The protagonist is a hollow shell, beaten, burned and betrayed by its own. It is not a pretty sight.
Capri cinema, one of Karachi’s leading single screen film cinemas, was torched by an angry mob on 21st September. It was not the only one, though. Eight other cinemas, five in Karachi and three in Peshawar, shared the same fate.
A few paces to down the road, Capri’s neighbor, Prince Cinema, already closed to public out of a legal action, saw a harder throw-down. Nishat Cinema, the bigger brother of the Cine-lane at M. A. Jinnah Road, and the first child of Mandivwalla Entertainment, owners of the lush four-screen Atrium Cineplex, was murdered in cold blood. A lane to the left, Bambino Cinema, also torn down, patched itself up a little too quickly — it was a fighter.
Capri, however, took a brief breather to gather its strength. The cinema plans to opens its doors to the public two or three weeks from now — reborn more resilient, but inside the same shell.
I visited Capri several times during its painful restoration. Farrukh Rauf, director of Capri cinema and Aziz Khattak, general manager and the chief taskmaster of Capri’s scheduled resurgence, have always been accommodating, regardless of natural working hours.
“Our plan is to open Capri by December 7, and if delayed, by December 15,” Rauf said.
The opening, he said, is going to coincide with the Akshay Kumar’s Khiladi 786, which he says will be a “full-on entertainer”.
In case of construction delays, their next opening window will be with Salman Khan’s Dabaang 2, a week later.
Right now though, there are flakes of wood-work all over the floor as three men mend furniture in a corner. A man balances himself like a tight-rope trapeze artist — only his drop is a three and a half-feet; this man is painting the roof. Periodically, the walls echo the thunder of Thor’s hammer. The booming sound is secreted away from what my eyes see. Its continued timbre, however, has the aura of an old storyteller.
“The incident happened in September, and we started reconstruction from mid-October, I think somewhere around the 15th,” Rauf said. “For the first 15 days after the incident, we didn’t touch anything. We were waiting for the government response, and people wanted to see what happened to the cinemas, so (after a while) we opened ourselves to let the public see what happened. When nothing happened from the government’s — or from anyone else’s end — we had no option but to start work on our own by borrowing money from (our) stakeholders”
As I walk through the familiar curving corridor with Mr. Rauf, there’s a gargantuan wooden appendage clutching the main cinema hall. A few high-powered lamps shine the scene for the workers;the dramatic ambiance, a nice after-thought, is an improve that just happened.
Talking about the cost of reconstruction, Mr. Rauf said that “(we) are expecting about 5 million in repairs and another 5 million from business losses”. As far as profit goes, “it’s going to take about six months to cover the losses. Up until then, it’s going to be a no-profit game”, he said. Coming out of debt would take a year if the business is good.
As expected, no government encouragement came to help.
“We held various press conferences, asking the government for support, urging them to setup a commission to investigate the incident, access damages, and accordingly, consider earmarking compensation or (maybe) announce incentives.” Rauf said. “But unfortunately, nothing happened.”
He admits that the media played a preeminent role in evoking a response. Celebrities were horrified.
“Mustafa Qureshi, Sangeeta exclaimed full support, citing that these cinemas were the backbone of (the film fraternity),” he said. “If these cinemas went out of existence, it would be an irrecoverable damage to the already suffering cinema industry.”
Rauf said Ajab Gul did a press conference and visited the damaged sites requesting the same thing from the government that he did.
“Financial support was nil. Absolutely zero,” he said. “This charity was, like everything else, restricted to lip service.”
We continued my tour, and he and Mr. Aziz, showed me some old speakers jutting from low-ceilings where people with Rs. 200 tickets would sit. “We are going to replace all of them” Rauf pointed. He had already shown me a prototype of the new chairs. Although not of high-end multiplex quality, these new chairs would be sturdier with better cushions then the ones that were eaten up by the fire.
“We are upgrading the quality of the sound and the picture and the overall comfort of the audience,” he said. “We’re also beefing up the security of the cinemas with “internal (security) cameras, a walk-through security booth (and) metal detectors, so that the audience would feel comfortable inside the cinemas,” he said.
The cinema will also have bouncer-like “security guards to curtail foul-language and uncalled-for hooting”. This measure is a keen step to keep the cinema family-friendly for the masses, he continued.
So far Capri’s hall didn’t have a screen. The last screen was totally destroyed by fire. In its place will be “a brand new screen (that’s) bigger than the last one”.
“The (new) screen (by) itself is 200-300 sq. feet larger than what it was before — and twice as sharp”, Mr. Rauf said.
“We’ve also installed new Xenon bulbs at the projectors for sharper quality output on the screen. These bulbs luminance factor is twice as clear as the ones before. We’ve also added new lenses, which expand the viewing angle and is the primary reason behind getting a bigger and wider screen”, he elaborated.
The cinemas’ audio upgrades include installation of a “state-of-the-art Dolby Digital setup” that “outputs to 7.1 channels and new digital readers that creates better and far more accurate surround stereo-targeting at the cinema hall.”
“It will be the biggest screen in Karachi, and we expect that the audience will feel the difference between a big screen experience” and that of the smaller screen, he said.
“The prices are intended to remain the same as it was before”, Mr. Rauf said “Right now, we’re planning on absorbing the (reconstruction) expenses ourselves. We won’t pass on this burden to the audience. The tickets will remain as they were (i.e. Rs. 100, 200 and 300) and they will stay the same for about another year”.
“Depending, of course on the economy,” he added.
As the three of us walk out of the curving halls, I noticed the stenciled art-work on the walls. The designer is Rauf, Mr. Aziz tells me the next day.
Single screens, however, come with a disadvantage. They can only show one film at a time. The management also has that problem licked. “To cater to audience demand, we will try to accommodate more than one film per day so that the masses can get a certain measure of variety”, Mr. Rauf tells me in our phone conversation. Expanding to (multiple screens) “depends on the business we get in the future”.
“We have considered an area and a location for such an event for a 300 seat screen above the current one at Capri, but it all depends on the love of the audience.”
That plan may still take a year or two to come out from the drawing board.
We receive a lot of phone calls, requesting Capri’s return. To them, it was a form a (cost-effective) mass entertainment. This is still the cheapest form of entertainment”. (Comparatively speaking),“there is still no form of (recreation) that can provide three hours of entertainment for Rs. 200 or Rs. 300”.
Mr. Rauf expects Capri to be packed by the masses come the end of Moharram.
The front entrance of the cinema has better fortification. There’s a fresh-coat of paint on the walls. The workers are working away, but their endeavor is a happy one.
Capri opens soon.
The writer is the Senior Film Critic for Images on Sunday and Dawn.com.