KARACHI, Pakistan—The dirty little secret of life inside Pakistan is that even while the country remains deeply divided over the nature of its conservative soul, subject to violent internal attacks by the Taliban and other religious extremists at any time, a thriving underground of porn continues to exist in "dark and smoky" cinemas that "reek of hashish" that everyone apparently knows about.
According to the Jakarta Globe, "Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Peshawar in particular, continue to reel from bomb attacks on girls’ schools and even shrines. Shops selling CDs, and Internet cafes have been sporadically attacked. Billboards showing women have been defaced or pulled down. Yet cinemas showing porn continue to flourish."
Though the survival of these cinemas is attributed to their ability and willingness to pay "hundreds of thousands of rupees in bribes" every month, the fact that so many people know about them suggests that maybe even the Taliban tolerates them as an acceptable and manageable outlet for irrepressible human urges.
“Every show in those cinemas is house-full,” said Lala Fida Mohammad Khan, former producer of films in the local language Pashto, and who now runs a cinema in the garrison city Rawalpindi next to the capital, Islamabad. “Everyone knows what fare each cinema churns out, everyone is involved. Daily three shows are run and on Sundays there is a morning matinee as well. On the auspicious [Eid-ul-Fir] days, there are usually five shows so people can come right after the congregation.”
In some cities, a minority of the remaining cinemas don't play porn. In Peshawar, reported the Globe's Zofeen Ebrahim, of the nine remaining halls "only one run by the Pakistan Air Force 'avoids' porn."
One cinema owner who used to produce films in the local Pashto language, stopped, he said, because “no one wants to watch clean, decent films; these don’t sell any more.”
Ironically, Ebrahim added, it is Pakistan's mortal enemy, India, that is the cause of the cinema revival in its nuclear neighbor. "Only the lifting of the ban on exhibiting Indian films in 2006 gave Pakistan cinema halls a new lease on life," he wrote, citing the fact that last year the Pakistan film industry produced only 20 films. With 200 cinemas remaining in the whole country, down from a 1977 high of 700, that still leaves a lot of screen time open for movies of all types, including, apparently, a lot of porn.
Of course, it's hardly breaking news that the Pakistanis like porn on the internet, too, as well as donkeys, and horses. Or that special guests in the country are permitted to acquire what many might call a "porn stash" without fear of reprisal. Or that the Taliban continue to present a very real threat to merchants who might want to sell a few porn DVDs. Like everywhere, it's a mixed bag, a tapestry of good and evil that somehow combines to make up Pakistan.