Some of the first shopping malls in Pakistan sprung up on the ruins of cinemas demolished after the number and quality of Pakistani films started deteriorating from the 1980s onwards. For instance, the Jubilee Cinema in Karachi was replaced by the Jubilee Centre shopping mall and the New Auriga Shopping Mall in Lahore stands where Auriga Cinema once did.
This process, ironically, is now in a 180-degree reverse: most new shopping malls want to have multiplex cinemas inside them. “Multiplexes are going to be an integral part of future shopping malls and, hence, real estate developers as well as mall owners are wooing companies running multiplexes,” says Nawabul Hassan Siddiqui, director distribution at Mandviwalla Entertainment, which owns and runs the Atrium multiplex cinemas.
There is business logic in that. Real estate experts the Herald spoke to say that mall owners and those investing in cinemas realise that they can only gain from mutual synergy. A Karachi-based real estate expert, who advises several groups in cinema investment and, hence, wishes not to be named, explains the benefits: “A cinema provides a constant stream of income to the mall during the daytime when there is relatively little activity in shops otherwise. Moreover, the cinema audience increases footfall (the number of shoppers/people entering a shop) and, therefore, increases impulse buying in the mall.” Cinema owners are also stable long-term tenants, he says. “They pay security deposits and lease payments, and their presence improves the rental system of the mall.”
Though no local statistics are available, international studies verify his arguments. An International Council of Shopping Centres survey in 1996 found that movie theatres draw in potential shoppers who would not otherwise have been exposed to the mall, and that 60 per cent of moviegoers shopped in the mall during their visit to the theatre, spending on average 35 per cent of what all mall shoppers spent. Another study, conducted by Joseph Ooi and Loo-Lee Sim at nine Singaporean malls in 2003, found that the presence of a cinema was the fifth most important reason why people chose to visit a particular mall. In the same study, 72 per cent of customers felt that the presence of a cinema would entice them to visit a mall more often and 25 per cent said that they visited a mall only to see a movie.
Limits apply in Pakistan’s case, however, since the rather small number of shopping malls we have poses a serious challenge to the growth of cinemas. This has led some investors to explore other options such as building smaller multiplex complexes which do not need to be housed inside malls. Film-maker Syed Furqan Haider, for instance, is converting his auditorium in Karachi into a multiplex. In Faisalabad, two stand-alone multiplexes, Nagina 1 and Nagina 2, will open next year. The Karachi-based film production and distribution company Geo Films, says its head Rehmat Fazli, is also exploring locations to build a multiplex complex due to the paucity of malls in Karachi.
Existing and prospective investors want the government to encourage the opening of cinemas. Siddiqui says that the government needs to devise favourable policies for the exhibitors. “Though still at a nascent stage, the cinema industry is all set to grow and government should start taking it seriously,” he says. Others emphasise that government incentives could really be very helpful. “If the government gives a tax holiday on the construction of new multiplexes and for the modernisation and renovation of existing cinema halls, it will certainly intensify the trend of opening new cinemas,” says Fazli.
According to Siddiqui, by offering such incentives the government will not lose anything, but instead it stands to gain. “Cinemas can generate revenues for the government in the form of taxes on ticket sales.” The other impact could be on the job market. More cinemas will mean more jobs — existing trends already vouch for that. “The current boom in the cinema exhibition industry has directly and indirectly created around 20,000 jobs,” says Siddiqui.