Here at Cinema Pamer in Kabul, an Indian movie is showing on the big screen. There are 600 seats inside, but the cinema looks empty. Only 150 people are here watching the movie.
One of them is Said Agha, a soldier from the Afghan army.
“I’m on leave, I came here to watch an interesting movie. I feel happy. But I wish they played more Afghan movies because we also have good Afghan films,” he said.
Pamer is one of the five remaining cinemas in Kabul. This city with 6 million population only has 4 other cinemas.
The Cinema Pamer manager, Said Khalid, says it’s a challenging time for movies theaters to survive in Kabul. “Not many people are interested in going to cinemas anymore. From 6 million people in Kabul, maybe only 300 to 400 people go to cinemas in the city,” he told Asia Calling journalist, Ghayor Waziri.
But back in the 1960s, the movie scene looked quite different. Afghan’s King Zahir started a state-run production house that made hundreds of films - and many new film studios mushroomed across the country. Across Afghanistan there were 45 cinemas, showing 60 films, three times a day.
Fifty-seven-year-old Atiq Allah fondly remembers those days.“It was a pleasant time. Cinemas were open until midnight. I went to the cinema many times and had to rush to buy movie tickets. The ticket was sold up to 13 times it’s original price,” he said.
“Families went to cinemas and people loved watching movies. But the war changed everything,” he added.
Under the Taliban regime, films were deemed as un-Islamic. Film studios were demolished and movie theatres were turned into rubble. But even after the fall of Taliban, the film industry is still struggling to regain popularity.
Said Khalid says they’re now facing new challenges. “We now have cable broadcasters, mobile phones, DVD players and more and more TV channels. This is a big challenge faced by cinemas right now. People can watch movies anywhere they want. This is why we have less of an audience. We only have 200 people in the audience each day,” he explained.
And many Afghans, like university student Muhammad Bashir, don’t find it comfortable watching movies at the cinemas. He says, “Many people misuse the cinema and disturb others.”
Inside the cinemas, people smoke, talk on their phones, and even clap and whistle at songs and action scenes.
Historical author Habib Allah Rafee explains why he thinks the audience responds in this way.
“The war has made people more familiar with violent actions. Movie theatres are also showing violent movies without proper attention from the government. People are becoming more impolite while watching movies inside the theatre,” he explained.
Pamer theatre manager Said Khalid hopes the Afghan movie scene can return to its glory days. “We don’t aim to get an income from the cinema. We just want cinemas to become popular again. So that people could enjoy movies and use cinemas as a learning place for public. Cinema has good impacts on people,” he said.