So what if Kashmir’s capital city does not have a single cinema hall, where its residents can ogle at the superstars of tinselworld? Its autorickshaws more than make up for that anomaly.
For instance, anybody getting into Mohammad Lateef’s autorickshaw would find himself sharing his space with colourful posters of Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan. Ask him why, and 45-year-old Lateef, who as a youngster used to often visit Neelam hall to watch films, happily gushes that he is probably the biggest Bollywood buff in the Valley.
Srinagar’s residents have not watched a movie in a cinema hall for the last 25 years – at least not within city borders. During the rise of the militant separatist movement in 1989-90, its eight cinema theatres were shut down. Though there were attempts to re-open some of them in the late 90s, frequent militant attacks and low audience turnout played spoilsport.
Don’t be mistaken, the anti-cinema lobby in Srinagar is quite strong. While many cherish the non-existence of movie halls due to religious reasons, others believe in “resistance against anything Indian”.
Despite this, Bollywood is loved by many in Srinagar – especially its resident auto-wallahs. “These posters tell the story of a love lost in time,” says Lateef as the auto weaves through the frozen streets of the city. “Theatres have shut down and Bollywood has gone away from our lives. But, in our hearts, the love for Bollywood still exists.”
One can watch the occasional movie on television, says he, but that’s barely like a family outing to the cinema hall.
Lateef explained how autorickshaw drivers buy the posters separately for Rs 30 to Rs 40, and then get it incorporated into the vehicle’s interior design for around `500. His film stars are sourced from Mohammad Amin, a pavement poster vendor on Residency Road.
“Salman Khan sells the most. We don’t have cinema halls but the idolising prevails,” quips Amin, adding that he had once sold 100-120 copies of Tere Naam posters. The posters are brought in from Delhi.
The closing of the movie halls, however, led to the boom of another industry – pirated films. The biggest customers of Hilal Ahmad’s DVD store at Lal Chowk are high school children. At present, all they want are copies of Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani. “With no halls, the people here have no choice but to come here. There is a demand for DVDs as soon as a film releases,” said Ahmad – who sells both original and pirated movie DVDs for `30. His annual turnover from the business is ‘45,000, with a profit margin of 20-22%.
Cultural observers, however, don’t approve of Kashmir’s love affair with Bollywood. “The use of Bollywood posters in auto rickshaws reveals the lack of choices Kashmiris have in the cultural domain. There is a continuous bombardment of mainstream Indian entertainment, leaving them with no choice but to flock to it for their needs,” said Arshad Mushtaq, a prominent Kashmiri playwright and filmmaker.