In a city of no cinema halls, Bollywood movie 'Haider', if not a chartbuster, is the most downloaded movie online in Srinagar with people organising at-home private premiere for friends and families. The movie has, for a change, revived the cinema culture after twenty five years of militancy that saw closing down of around one dozen theatres.
At Srinagar's downtown area of Hawal, always in news for anti-government protests, the Naqeeb clan has hired a projector to watch director Vishal Bharadwaj's 'Haider', based on a Shakespearean novel Hamlet, shot and woven in the background of 1994 militancy period. The movie was screened to a room full of relatives, young and old, on a white bedcover.
"We can relate with the visuals in the movie. We have lived them, the crackdown, the encounters, the grey atmosphere. First time, the Bollywood took us close to real Kashmir. The movie is a departure from Bollywood's fetish for the Dal Lake, flowers beds and meadow slopes," said Iliyas Naqeeb, a banker with the Valley's leading J&K Bank.
Such numerous private screenings have come amidst a militant ban on cinema halls in Kashmir. Several attempts by the government to reopen theatres in 1999 failed following grenade attacks by militants. Since then, around 13 theatres have been turned into hospitals, guest houses, flour mills, shopping complexes etc.
Despite no culture of cine-goers, the movie remains the most downloaded and most circulated ever, with parlours doing a brisk business. "I have shared the downloaded print with clear voice and better picture quality with dozens of friends. Probably, we all relate in bits and parts with it. The fact that screenplay writer is a local Basharat Peer, author of 'Curfewed Nights', makes it more curious," said Saleh Peerzada, a lawyer. "The movie weighs so heavy on our minds that it comes as the first question after salutations 'did you watch Haider'," he added.
There is no box office to understand success of the movie in Srinagar but the Valley's leading daily Greater Kashmir is flooded by reviews, commentaries and opinions on the movie. "We have already published around ten pieces on the movie. And many remain unedited. This movie has generated a fair amount of debate. We have never received such response to any movie so far. People are agreeing and disagreeing," said Greater Kashmir feature editor Majid Maqbool.
Bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and the common people are equally bitten by the movie bug. "I cried while watching certain scenes. It was reliving 90s again," said a woman doctor, preferring not to be named.
It's after two decades that the movie revived cinema culture, though very privately done, and also changed people's attitude towards the Bollywood, against which there is a common refrain of being unfair to the Kashmir story. "The Bollywood has a long way to go to come close to Kashmir portrayal. The movie though is a positive departure from the past," said Junaid Ahmad, a student.