Kashmir's slow return to normalcy: Cinemas open for first time in three decades

By 1 month ago

When the INOX multiplex opens in Srinagar this September, it will give locals their first chance in three decades to watch movies on a big screen.

With militants and fundamentalists closing down cinemas and banning movies for years, news of the launch of the multiplex has given Kashmiris of all ages a tremendous sense of joy.

According to businessman Vijay Dhar, the owner of the multiplex, the purpose of reintroducing film exhibition in Kashmir is to provide the younger generations with the same kind of entertainment that the youth have throughout the country.

“This is for everyone. Our youth can now watch 3D movies and scream and shout. Except for sports and food, there is no place to go for entertainment these days,” said Dhar.

Located in Srinagar’s Sonwar area, the multiplex has three auditoriums, a total seating capacity of 520 people, food outlets including a few for local fare, game rooms and the latest audio systems. Its design incorporates Kashmiri culture in the form of a papier-mâché and khatamband ceiling and it is currently in the final stages of establishment.

“Apart from coming here to watch movies, kids will enjoy it a lot,” said Anil Kumar, the person in charge of the multiplex.

When cinemas closed

In the 1980s, the Kashmir valley had 15 operational movie theatres, nine of which were in Srinagar, including Broadway, Regal, Neelam, Palladium, Firdaus, Shiraz, Khayam, Naaz, and Shah.

But after the militancy began in 1989, most of the theatres were closed and turned into camps for the security forces, while others were converted into hotels and even hospitals. The remaining movie theatres fell into disrepair.

In 1999, the government of chief minister Farooq Abdullah attempted to reopen the movie theatres by allowing Regal, Neelam and Broadway to screen films. However, a militant attack occurred during the first show at the Regal cinema, killing one person and injuring 12 others. So the cinemas were closed again.

Srinagar-based Ghulam Ahmad, 45, a shopkeeper, shared memories of the wonderful times he had had as a child when the movie theatres were open.

“Every Saturday, which was a half-day, my friends and I begged the school watchman to let us out early so we could watch the afternoon show in the nearby Neelam cinema,” Ahmad said.

Now, while he is happy that cinemas are reopening, he has a caveat. “The content should be worth watching,” Ahmed told The Wire.

Also read: An Illustrated Record of Kashmir’s Revered Mosques and Shrines

Local filmmakers rejoice

The opening of the multiplex gives Kashmir’s aspiring filmmakers hope that there will soon be a film industry in the union territory.

Ansar Hussain, 25, a student of Convergent Journalism at the Central University of Kashmir, told The Wire, “As a student of film studies, I see the potential of the best kind of filmmaking in each corner of Kashmir. There are thousands of stories to tell.”

He expects that the opening of the multiplex in Kashmir will encourage talented local youth to do their best work and show their films to the world.

“There is no dearth of talent in Kashmir. All we need is direction and a proper platform,” said Ansar. “If the new cinema hall opens successfully, it will not be long before Kashmir will have its own entries for the Oscars.”

Down with unemployment

Hopefully, the opening of one multiplex will lead to the opening of several others. If it does, the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir may fall, added Ansar. “We would prefer to work here than leave Kashmir to find work,” he said.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), J&K has a 25% unemployment rate, far greater than India’s national unemployment rate of 7.6%.

Re-establishing cinema culture in Kashmir will definitely boost the economy of the union territory, said Aijaz, an engineer and the District Development Committee member from Srinagar for the Bharatiya Janata Party and member of the Haj Committee of India.

“Now the youths of Kashmir need not go elsewhere for jobs,” he told The Wire. “The reopening of cinemas in Srinagar is an indication of the progress being made for peace.”

According to Dhar, the multiplex will generate employment for 40 people. “Overall, it will settle around 100 locals,” he said, explaining that he hopes to promote and encourage local food entrepreneurs in the multiplex’s food court. “We will run the business with qualified locals. It is important to promote our own Kashmiri brand,” he said.

Bollywood in Kashmir

Dhar, whose family owned the Broadway movie theatre and who runs the Delhi Public School in Srinagar, believes that it is only fitting to reopen movie theatres in Kashmir.

“The multiplex is a tribute to renowned Bollywood actors like Raj Kapoor, who came to Kashmir to shoot the film Barsaat. After that, a number of actors came here to film. I believe that approximately 30% of the classic films were shot in Kashmir,” Dhar said.

Prior to the outbreak of armed insurgency in the valley, a number of iconic films were shot in locations such as Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Srinagar.

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Copyright GreekCityTimes 2022
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Copyright GreekCityTimes 2022