The place that was always in the news for the wrong reasons—stone-pelting, pellet guns, deaths and injuries—is now abuzz with the talk of opening up of cinema halls after more than three decades.
Kashmir—once the favourite destination of Bollywood filmmakers—got disconnected from the film world when in the early 90s, terrorists forced the shutting of cinema halls in the length and breadth of the Valley.
Before the onset of terrorism, there were nine cinema halls in Srinagar and a few in other towns. In the early 90s, terrorist group Allah Tigers banned the operation of cinema halls forcing the cinema owners to down the shutters.
In 1999, the then State Government headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah attempted to reopen a few movie theatres. However, on the first day of opening, terrorists hurled a grenade towards one of the reopened cinemas, killing one and injuring 12 other persons. That was it.
Since then though the governments, that be, would occasionally talk about the opening of cinema halls, no serious effort was ever made. However, respective governments convinced some filmmakers to shoot their movies in Kashmir.
Now that the INOX multiplex opens in Srinagar, the local cinema-goers of yesteryears will be watching movies on the big screen after three decades, while as for the post-1980 generation, it will be a first of its kind experience within the Valley.
Located in Srinagar’s Sonwar area, the multiplex has three auditoriums, a total seating capacity of 520 people, food outlets, game rooms and the latest audio system.
Ahead of the multiplex opening in Srinagar, J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurated multipurpose cinema halls at Pulwama and Shopian districts of south Kashmir. It may be recalled here that these two districts used to be hot-spots of stone-pelting and strikes before 2019 and were entirely under the control of fundamentalists. The UT administration is aiming to have such cinema halls in all districts.
“Only two days ago, two multi-purpose cinemas at Pulwama and Shopian were opened under the youth mission. We have a target to establish 100-seat cinema halls under mission youth in every district of J&K. shooting of many films is going on here under the new film policy. We have selected land for the film city. In the new film policy there are a lot of avenues for local youths and if they make small films they will get a lot of incentives so that locals will get employment ” — Manoj Sinha, J&K Lieutenant Governor
The initiative is being welcomed by the majority of the people in Kashmir. “The opening of cinema halls marks the reemergence of the culture that was dumped in early 90’s,” says Manzoor Anjum, Editor of widely read Urdu daily Uqab.
Anjum says that before the closure of cinema halls in Kashmir, almost 70 per cent of the population would watch movies in these halls. He believes that in the absence of cinema halls, there were no avenues of entertainment for youth here, and that is why some of them got hooked on to drugs.
Noted Kashmiri filmmaker Fayaz Dilbar believes that the opening of movie theatres would help local filmmakers in a big way.
“Film making is not only about infotainment. It generates employment. With the opening of theaters, local filmmakers can try their luck. Now they have avenues available to screen their films,” Dilbar says.
“If cinema halls can operate in Saudi Arabia and Iran, why not in Kashmir,” he questions.
As mentioned earlier, Kashmir has had a strong bond with Bollywood. It was not a dream destination for film-makers only, but the actors and actresses too would be looking forward to shooting in the Valley.
From Raj Kapoor’s Barsat to Rajesh Khana’s Aap Ki Kassam; from Dilip Kumar’s Karma to Shami Kapoor’s Kashmir Ki Kali or Amitabh Bachchan’s Mr Natwarlal, all were shot in Kashmir.
The UT Government’s decision to open the cinema halls in Kashmir is undoubtedly going to reconnect Kashmir with Bollywood and thus not only bring the Valley back on the film map of the country but would also help open avenues for employment generation.
The UT Government has recently adopted a new film policy aimed at encouraging the country’s film-makers to make movies in Kashmir besides providing an opportunity to the local filmmakers, cinematographers, choreographers, musicians, screenplay writers and actors to test their talent.
The fresh initiatives have every potential to give a boost to film making in Kashmir. However, the execution of the new film policy will exclusively depend on the UT administration as to how it minimises red-tapism and makes the policy more ‘filmmaker-friendly.’
Though the opening of cinemas indicates Kashmir’s return to normalcy, in practical terms normalcy would be when most people see themselves as part of the process and not just be mute by-standers.
Before the 1990s, Kashmir had 12 cinemas which were shut down after terrorism erupted. In 1998, three cinema halls— Broadway, Neelum and Regal—were reopened only to be closed again due to a grenade explosion
In today’s Kashmir, we have an army of talented and trained filmmakers, but the system, over the years, has been so lousy that they never were recognised or appreciated.
“I am happy that movie theaters are opening in Kashmir but don’t think it is going to help local filmmakers to harness their talent. I have been trying for so many years, babus (bureaucrats) have no idea what film making means. They are just concerned about their cuts and commissions,” a young struggling filmmaker says, understandably not wanting to identify himself.