RAWALPINDI: Long gone are the days when employees of the single-screen cinemas in Rawalpindi used to sell the tickets in ‘black’. Nowadays, they eagerly wait for enough moviegoers that could enable the cinema owners able to pay employees their salary at the month’s end. There was a time when the city had over dozen and a half cinema houses. Novelty, Nishat, Nadir, Rialto, Sangeet, Gulistan, Shabistan, Naz, Rex, Garrison, Odeon, Plaza, Imperial, Taj Mahal, PAF, Tasveer Mahal and Shaheen have either stopped screenings or the respective owners have converted the theatres into shopping malls. Ciros, Shabistan, Rose, Khurshid and Moti Mahal are however still functional. But they, too, have woeful tales to tell. But please mind the difference here. Technically, only Ciros is screening the latest entertainment flicks, and has got an air-conditioned hall and a gallery. Rose does not purchase the movies but runs CDs and DVDs of old and new movies by using its projector. Shabistan runs only matinee shows of old Pakistani movies and local Punjabi stage shows are staged in the night. Moti Mahal is sticking to its old routine and is famous for: XX and XXX ‘totas’ which will keep on appearing steadily during the movie hence captivating the audience’s attention till the show ends. Khurshid is, as we know is meant for Pushto movies only. There’s a history behind all this destruction. First came the cable TV which dedicated the three or four channels for screening the latest Indian and Punjabi movies. Then approached the blockbuster popularity of Punjabi stage dramas. Multiplex cinemas built during the last six or seven years in te big cities across Pakistan proved as the last straw on an already sinking ship of single-screeners. Lower-middle and middle class moviegoers and families have shifted to multiplexes and now only poor and uneducated people, cart-pushers, rickshaw drivers, laborers, mechanics and their likes are providing inadequate financial relief for these surviving single-screeners. “The Indian movies and a current wave of Pakistan productions have provided us a ‘breathing space’. If their release stops now, the surviving cinema houses will soon vanish from the screen. Even the English language movies have failed to carry the whole show,” says Manzar Khurshid Shaikh, owner of Ciros and former president of Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce. Ciros is perhaps the lone one among the survivors meeting its costs. The manager of the theatre, Saqib Malik, terms the single-screens a ‘sinking ship’. “The fault with the Indian or English language movie is that soon after its release it becomes available on cable TV and CDs. Piracy is the fashion of the day and there is no system to check the practice”. “Another problem is that other single-screen owners did not invest in the machinery, sound system and quality seating arrangement in the hall. The people’s trend has changed now. They prefer a neat and clean environment with better sound system and sharp prints,” says Manzar. Ciros is taking advantage of its better-than-others equipment, sound system and hall. Others blame the nearly-zero production of Pakistani movies for their rapid decline. But Rose, Khurshid and Moti Mahal have no such facilities. “Have a look. What it says … Rs220 for the first show, Rs350 for the second. This Friday gave us a business of Rs1,450 only. Who on earth can meet the huge costs with this meagre ticket sale,” says the manager or Rose Cinema, Khalid Malik, making me steal a glance at a daybook-type register. “The death of Sultan Rahi proved fatal for the industry. But we believe in God and there is rise after fall and fall after rise. We hope for the best,” says Malik. Seven or eight people were watching a Pushto movie, which translated means “Gambling is in my heart” at Khurshid’s hall, that was filled from bottom to top with hashish smoke when this correspondent entered inside. The sound was unbearable and the screenwriting was supported by a song after every seven or ten minutes. The gallery of Khurshid, which screens Pushto language movies, was closed down owing to the ever declining number of moviegoers. Three Pushto movies were released last Eid but none was taken by Khurshid, owned by S Ali Raza, former president of the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “CD dramas cost us dearly. Have a look at it … 12, 15, nine and seven today…these are the number of people who were watching movies yesterday and today. Friday however, shows that the trend reached a maximum of 92,” says Shafqat, the manager who was packing ‘rewris’, a delicacy made from sugarcane juice, by counting them one by one to be sold during interval when this correspondent entered his office. He also serves as the ticketing clerk. Shabistan too did not invest in the seating and sound system. For the likes of Rose and Shabistan even the Indian and English langue movies did and still do not work. The advent of multiplexes, racial and stereotype productions before that, and an ever-rising extremist trend and piracy did to our single-screen cinemas what the villain did to Sher Dil’s (Shaan) sister, Guddo. Sherdil, a 2010 Punjabi release, being screened by Moti Mahal. The villain, a police official, has somehow managed his wedding with Guddo, and on the wedding night orders his fellow deputy, “Shadi Guddo naal mein kiti aey, par suhaag raat tou manawein gaa” (Though I married to Guddo, but you are the one who will spend the wedding night with her).