Ever since its inception in the year 1981, Alhamra Art Centre has been one privileged venue in the city that has played host to scores of cultural events, both national and international — from stage plays to music shows, art exhibitions and, more recently, Lahore Literary Festivals. What was hailed as a design marvel, thought up by renowned architect Nayyar Ali Dada, the Centre fell into neglect only a decade or so later. Today, the condition of its halls tells a sad story.
The seats inside the three halls — barring the freshly introduced Baithak — are broken or their cloth has come off at different places. Besides, the margin between any two rows of seats is too narrow to allow for an easy movement. And, to think that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
An avid theatre goer, Zeeshan says, “I usually go to Tamaseel [on Ferozpur Road] to watch stage dramas. I hadn’t been to Alhamra in a long time. The last time I was here was when I was a bachelor. Trust me the place has changed a great deal overtime — not exactly in a good way.
“Sure they have an art gallery, a library and a music and art academy now, but the halls seem old-fashioned, to put it mildly.”
He goes on to explain, “For one thing, the administration hasn’t upgraded the [halls’] sound system. The furniture and the carpets are decades-old and they stink. They should be replaced immediately.”
A mention of the condition of the facilities at Alhamra is enough to gross out the visitors. Not only are the washrooms dirty and smelly, they are wet most of the time. The odour is sometimes too strong and crosses over to the halls, making it an unpleasant experience for the audience.
For those who are ‘forced by circumstance’ to use the washrooms, the place becomes a living nightmare. Hassan, 25, a theatre actor who has performed in different amateur productions at Alhamra, says the performers are the “hardest hit. Pun intended. We cannot escape using the facility, can we?”
The theatre halls are no less unclean. The covers of most of the seats, particularly those at the end of the rows, are variously torn and stained. The carpets on the floor leading up to the stage have been reduced to rags — literally. Not only do they appear dusty, they give off a strong stench. Patients with asthma are advised to think twice before making it here.
The roofs of all the three halls are broken. There have been instances, in the event of a downpour, where the audiences complained of leaks. All this does not make for a pretty sight. More importantly, it raises the question whether Alhamra, which has been the centre of art events, is without enough funds or its officials are not interested.
Hall-II and -III are too small and congested which means that in case of an emergency it won’t be easy to leave the hall safe and sound.
The most harrowing part is the absence of an emergency exit or a fire extinguisher.
A NUML student who is visiting the place believes the “historical and cultural importance of the place cannot be denied. But over the years, I see Alhamra as promoting more of commercial ventures. During the day, seminars and symposiums are held at the place. These are organised by different national and multinational companies.
“One also finds school events of different ilk such as prize-distribution ceremonies. I don’t consider this as wrong but at times these events are held at the expense of artistic activities.”
Talking to TNS, Alhamra Art Centre Admin Superintendent Muhammad Akram says, “We have three halls where the stage dramas are held. But these halls are used mostly for private functions during the day time. For example, Hall-I has 750 seats and we charge Rs18,000 per two-and-half hours for a function. Hall-II has the seating capacity for 435 people and we charge Rs12,000 for a function. Further, Hall-III is a 220-seater and we charge Rs8,000 for a function. The booking for both these halls is done for a time slot of two hours and thirty minutes. If a function lasts longer than the fixed time, an additional price is charged.”
According to Alhamra Art Centre Executive Director Muhammad Ali Baloch, “The Centre has its board of governors. If there is a problem, they solve it.
“Hundreds of visitors use the Centre washrooms everyday. Foul smell may be a once-in-a-while instance; it’s not a regular feature. Our sanitation staff keeps the facilities clean.”
Baloch further says the private events do not affect the routine art and cultural activities going on at the place. “The earnings from these commercial events are expended on the maintenance of the Centre because the government does not release enough funds to run the place.”