For Indian residents of Dubai, losing Al Nasr Cinema was like losing a precious piece of their homeland for a second time. On Sunday afternoon the city's oldest cinema was destroyed by a blaze that tore through its interior, creating billows of smoke that could be seen throughout the city. Yesterday, as forensic officers from Dubai Police and fire teams sifted through the debris to try to pinpoint the cause of the fire in the Oud Metha Road building, locals reminisced about the cultural connection to their homeland the cinema provided until its closure in 2006.
"My family and I often returned with no tickets. It was very popular, especially for Indian cinema," said Muralidharan, a regular visitor to Al Nasr Cinema. "I used to watch at least two films a month there and this continued for 14 years until it was finally closed down." The cinema was just a few blocks away from areas such as Karama, which is home to many expatriate Asian families. "We used to just walk up to the theatre, watch the film and walk back home," said Mr Muralidharan.
While the precise date of its opening is not certain, visitors to the cinema and former employees remembered the buzz surrounding its reopening in 1993. Mahamood BS, a former manager of the cinema who worked there until it closed in March 2006, said: "It was closed for a while, before which it was the first place to watch all the latest Hollywood movies. "When it reopened in the early 90s, it used to show a mix of English and Malayalam films. Huge crowds used to turn up for the screenings."
The cinema had 740 seats but getting a ticket on weekends was difficult. Staff remember the last film was a Malayalam film, which ran to a packed house. "Indian film lovers and families were disappointed when it closed and requested us to reopen it," Mr Mahamood recalled. The area around the theatre was also a place for socialising and families would catch up while gathered in front of the cinema on weekends.
"It was a great location and there were several restaurants nearby. There was an Al Nasr restaurant in the same complex and we often had dinner there," said Mr Muralidharan. Mr Mahamood, who now works for another cinema in Sharjah, said: "It was always very busy. Towards the last few months it showed only Malayalam movies and a lot of families came to watch the films. However, soon the multiplex cinemas started coming up in the city and people were diverted to other places."
While other cinemas had multiple screens, Al Nasr Cinema had only one, and showed the same movie four times a day. It was one of the many old-style cinemas that have closed, including the Dubai Cinema in Deira and the Strand Cinema in Karama. Media images of the fire were disturbing for Mr Mahamood: "I saw pictures and images on news channels and it was very sad to see it burning." The Al Nasr Club, which owns the land, has already been contacted by companies wanting to develop the site.
"We have been contacted by a couple of companies to build hotel apartments at the location," said Imran al Jasmi, the manager of Al Nasr Club. "We are presently looking at the options available." The Al Nasr fire followed a blaze at another Dubai landmark this year. In April the Naif Souq, the oldest souq in the city, was gutted by a fire that destroyed almost 200 shops. The municipality is now rebuilding the souq in traditional style to bring back its old charm.