Kashmiris have mixed emotions about Valley getting a cinema hall after 23 years
While some people expressed scepticism at the development in view of the fear that continues to stalk the region, others welcomed it as a sign of change
On Tuesday, cinemas returned to the Kashmir Valley after a gap of 23 years with the opening of a multiplex in Srinagar.
The Lt. Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha inaugurated the multiplex, with Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha being the first ever movie being telecasted on the big screen.
Built with state-of-the-art technology in the high-security zone of Shivpora, near Badami Bagh Cantonment, the multiplex consists of 520 seats and three movie theatres.
Vikas Dhar, the owner of the Inox multiplex, said that the building’s construction took about four years to come up.
“This is not the first ever cinema hall in Kashmir, but we wanted to recreate the same charm that the cinemas had before they were closed down in the 1990s,” he told National Herald.
“At the same time, people deserve to see a movie in the cinema hall because they haven’t been able to do such activities in the past twenty years or so,” Dhar said, adding that the region’s people should have the same privilege as that enjoyed by people outside Kashmir.
In the 1990s, eleven cinema halls across Kashmir were closed down during due to militancy. While the National Conference president Farooq Abdullah tried in 1996 to get two of the biggest cinemas, ‘Broadway’ and ‘Neelam’ reopened, they failed to get going due to poor patronage.
“Cinema in Kashmir has a long history. The first ever cinema hall came up in Kashmir in 1932. It was called ‘Kashmir Talkies’. ‘Bombay Talkies’ came up two years later, in 1934,” said Dhar.
In 1999, the famous Regal Cinema in Lal Chowk stopped a screening of a Hindi movie, Pyar Koyi Khel Nahi after militants hurled a grenade during the first week of the opening.
While the new multiplex was inaugurated on Tuesday, it will be formally opened for people on October 1 with the screening of two movies, Vikram Vedha and Ponniyin Selvan (PS)-I, reported The Hindu.
The announcement has led to a wave of diverse opinions amongst Kashmiris.
“It is difficult to reconcile the pros and cons of opening a multiplex in Kashmir. Every development in Kashmir comes with its own price if viewed in retrospect,” said a 26-year-old Kashmiri, requesting anonymity. “The question remains, how receptive the people would be vis-à-vis this idea that has an important history attached to it.”
Sameer Malik*, another Kashmiri, said that the multiplex is being sold as a slice of history when militancy hadn’t gripped the Valley and the situation was “normal”.
“The multiplex is not the result of the situation in the Valley, as there is nothing 'normal' here. There is repression in all spheres of life from political to personal, so much so that for years we don't een have an elected government, something basic in a democracy,” he said.
“So, the question is what does the multiplex exactly represent?” he said.
Dhar said that 160 people have been provided employment through the opening of the multiplex. Moreover, a gaming zone is being added to the multiplex which would create employment for about 80 people.
“Apart from that, we are training young boys and girls. They will learn cooking, serving snacks or doing an usher’s job and other tasks that will help them grow and will also help the people coming in to watch movies,” he added.
Arsalan Ashiq, pursuing a bachelor’s degree believes that if the authorities had invested such money in improving the healthcare sector or education system in Kashmir, it would have been good for the region’s people.
“There is a huge difference between the scenario in and outside Kashmir. Nobody knows for sure how it will turn out,” he said, adding, “I don’t know if it’s safe or not, so I don’t think I want to go there right now.”
Another student, Mehrunnisa, said she was excited to go to the multiplex since her generation has not witnessed cinema halls in Kashmir till now.
“But the past still scares us and I don’t think our families would allow us to go there. I think that threat is going to remain, and I think most Kashmiris won’t feel safe going there,” she added.
Mir Sarwar, an actor and independent filmmaker based in Kashmir, said that over the years, there was no source of entertainment for people in the region. “It might be able to help the local filmmakers as they finally have a platform to broadcast their art,” he said.
He said that people will have apprehensions regarding safety, which would have to be taken care of by the government authorities. “People in Kashmir are actually looking for a change, I am sure they will accept this particular change,” he said.
(*Name changed on request)