The concept of going to the cinema is very much alive in our day and age. Even with things like Netlfix, it is pretty great to go to a cold and dark cinema and watch a movie with a bunch of strangers. This trend has increased in the past decade, as more and more cinemas keep opening up. However, after the Pulwana attack, cinema is Pakistan took a hit. Bollywood movies were banned from filming all over Pakistan-effectively taking away the huge audience. Cinema 73 found a way through this.
Asad Kamran—a 24-year-old Karachi-based artist and architect—first watched recent Bollywood blockbuster Gully Boy and thought it was one of the best movies he had seen in a while. Deeply impacted by the way this film highlighted the class divide in India and the struggles of a young aspiring artist being constantly questioned by his close ones, it inspired him to take ownership of some kind. He was keen to share the learnings he took away from the film with people like his driver and security guard, but the lack of inexpensive cinemas for people who didn’t belong to a higher socio-economic bracket became the first challenge.
Then, in February 2019, the government of Pakistan issued a ban against all Bollywood films in the country following the Pulwama attacks. In a deep-seated desire to expose people to everything Gully Boy had taught him as well as make an artistic statement against the effects of the tense situation between India and Pakistan, Kamran created Cinema 73.
Named after the block he lives on, Cinema 73 is an attempt to bridge the gap put in place by these political circumstances. The University of Edinburgh graduate, who wrote a research paper on urban spaces and artistic expression while studying for his Masters in Fine Arts degree, decided to flip his garage into a theatre open for public viewing. Inspired by a mobile cinema that operated through Karachi, Kamran set up a projector, painted the garage walls black and set up seating for about 35-40 people, opening it up to all those who simply just wanted to watch a movie. The experience, which happens every Sunday at 7.30pm, is completely free of charge and there’s even complimentary popcorn thrown in. While some people find out about the movies through the posters he puts up or his social media channels, many are passers-by who chance upon the spectacle on the street and show up out of intrigue.
With a projector, fold-up chairs and enthusiastic viewers, Cinema 73 comes alive to be a source of escape, entertainment and engagement every Sunday.
For Kamran, this meant making more films open to everyone out there—films like Pad Man, a Satyajit Ray short film and one on the rights of Pakistan’s transgender community that still face social biases. “State institutions can ban such art forms, but in our personal capacity, we should still be able to enjoy them,” he says.
But what about the dangers involved in doing so? Kamran explains that since Karachi is a cosmopolitan city riddled with diversity, people do ask a lot of questions and even point out that screening an Indian film isn’t allowed. But after a debate on why this is not just entertainment but a form of dissent, they are usually convinced to participate.
The initial cost of setting this up came to about $1000, but now that Kamran has established the foundation of this non-profit project, he is hoping to open it up to sponsors, who can sponsor a screening for PKR 3,000 ($21).