Wednesday, January 4, 2012


The Dark Knight was released last weekend and is apparently the best Batman film yet. I have heard stories of it being played back to back 24 hours a day in theatres in London. Batman in 1989 – with Jack Nicholson as the Joker – was the first movie I ever went to see in a cinema. My parents took me to watch it at the Galleria in the Hyatt Regency on a Friday; suffice to say, a life-long fascination with film began that day – but more specifically with watching films in cinemas. Beyond Brandon Lee’s The Crow, I don’t remember watching any other film at the Galleria. That was because my favourite cinema was Al Nasr in Bur Dubai.

Drive down Sheikh Rashid Road from Wafi towards the Sana intersection, turn right at the ENOC exit and you’ll find it down the road just on the roundabout. Everyone who has grown up here has memories at Al Nasr cinema in Bur Dubai; special birthday outings, great films and – dare I say it – first dates. It was wonderful, fun, and above all it was an authentic place. Seats in the orchestra were Dh9 and – if you were pretentious or just an adult – the balcony was Dh15.

As Dubai’s development moved south-west along its backbone towards Jebel Ali, so did the people – and eventually Bur Dubai’s demographic changed. Al Nasr struggled to cope, and with the emergence of the theatre multiplex phenomena it was forced to change its programming and become a screener of south Asian films. A few years ago, even that policy lost its commercial viability, mainly as a result of the competition from the Indian mega cinemas in Dubai.

Today, if you pass by Oud Maitha road and take a left on 10th street you will see a hunchbacked structure as you approach the roundabout: a dust-draped, closed theatre. If you park your car in the now empty parking lot and walk up those once-memorable stairs, you’ll see broken glass at the ticket counter and no posters in the hallway. Cinema Al Nasr’s owners have made the strategic decision to redevelop the location into a business hotel.

Why the owners have taken this decision is beyond the function of this article; in the end, one must remember that it was always meant as a supplementary attraction and more importantly as a revenue generator for the owner. What is within the purpose of this piece is to take a look back at a period in our short modern history that tends to fall in the cracks between the tectonic plates of heritage preservation on the one hand and modern development on the other. 

Both are noble and justifiable causes, yet the determined manner in which both are being championed leaves little support for what lies in the limbo between them. Perhaps we are unable to connect to our recent past, which is why we have such a schizophrenic relationship with it.

Are we so bewildered by the pace of development that as individuals –and institutions – we fail to see that not too long ago our past used to be our present? So we seem to have resigned ourselves to the fact that our only history is in the mud homes built before the age of oil. To me it seems that if it’s not made of mud and palm thatch, it had better be made of shiny glass.

Those were interesting times, when we first struck oil. We had to grow in those exciting times. There were many thoughts and stories by orators close and far, yet we navigated safely through them all. And now the times are even more exciting. But to make sure we are moving forward into the future that we all desire, it would be wise to take a loving look back at one of our first cultural urban institutions because Al Nasr cinema continued to have soul – but I feel that as its soul became stronger, its time was made shorter.

I wish that someone would ask the owners to halt their plans for its demolition, and I wish that in return they would be given land somewhere else where they could build their hotel. Then we could have Al Nasr Cinema again. I know that it could be reopened and still be authentic. Nasr Cinema is not a heritage site, it is an urban site. Harlem has the Apollo and we could have Al Nasr, but we must first learn to remember it all: our past and our present, with all the cracks in between. 

Originally published in The National on 31/07/08.


Blogger Yousra Totah said...

That is one amazing request from the owners...We had amazing memories in these old (sort of historical) places for us. We had great memories...that they're just erasing them. I don't have any based structures to show my children where I used to go as I was a kid. Such a pity that every place we had great time disappearing!

Sunday, December 09, 2012  

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