Kashmir’s long and rich cinematic history went dark and blank 32 years ago as sweeping diktats from terrorists and fundamentalists shut down cinemas and banned movies, calling any such audio-visual entertainment “haram”—or against the tenets of Islam. But Kashmir is making a jump cut in time, as plans are spooling to open Srinagar’s first multiplex this September.
“It’s a three-screen multiplex designed by INOX. It can seat at least 520 patrons, and will have the most advanced Dolby sound system, food courts selling local fare, and other entertainment options,” said Vikas Dhar, the owner. Fries and popcorn may meld with the wazwan, the delectable Kashmiri multi-cuisine, and modern acoustic sidings will blend with a papiermâché and khatamband ceiling, with wooden chips arranged geometrically into a motif.
The idea is to give the young the entertainment their peers enjoy outside Kashmir, said Vijay Dhar, Vikas’s father. “This is for everybody. Our youth should be happy. They can watch 3D movies. They need to scream and shout. Except sports and food, there is no place now where one can get a dose of entertainment,” he said, and thanked the Centre and the J&K government for their help. This is a far cry from that fateful day when 19 cinemas in Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla, Sopore, Handwara and Kupwara were shut down “by order” from the banned JKLF and Hizbul Mujahedeen terrorists on January 1, 1990.
Some relics of the past still exist, but not in the form they are intended to be. The iconic Palladium Cinema’s burnt-out skeleton stands still in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk as a grim reminder of the theatre of the absurd unleashed three decades ago. Many abandoned movie halls became “camps” for security forces. Some were converted into private nursing homes and shopping malls.
Attempts were made earlier too to revive cinemas in Kashmir—a picture-postcard place that has been a muse of filmmakers for long. In 1999, then CM Farooq Abdullah tried to reopen cinemas, announcing a cash subsidy for theatre owners. A few cinemas like Neelam, Regal and Broadway opened, but the attempt failed. Terrorists set off grenades inside Regal and Neelam, shutting down all those who dared.
Another attempt was nipped in the bud too. Then CM Mehbooba Mufti, who was helming a PDP-BJP coalition government, welcomed Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s decision to reopen movie theatres in his kingdom. But Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani shot it down with a strong statement against Saudi Arabia’s decision