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Striving to keep movies alive

There was a time when Srinagar had nine cinema halls showing the latest Bollywood movies. That was before militancy hit Kashmir in 1989. After that, militants gained the upper hand and forced movie halls and liquor shops to shut shop.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2010 23:35 IST
Ashiq Hussain

There was a time when Srinagar had nine cinema halls showing the latest Bollywood movies. That was before militancy hit Kashmir in 1989. After that, militants gained the upper hand and forced movie halls and liquor shops to shut shop.

Ten years later, when the security situation seemed better and the state government offered incentives to owners to resume showing films, three took up the offer but two of them shut down because business was bad. But Neelam carried on despite the odds.

Today, Neelam Cinema is the state capital’s only movie hall, struggling to keep the cine-going culture alive.

Two kilometres from Lalchowk, the heart of the city, Neelam Cinema, which can seat 900 people, had only 11 middle-aged people watching the 1993 Mithun Chakraborty-starrer Dalaal on Wednesday.

The viewers paid Rs 50 for wobbly balcony seats in a hall whose exterior has been given a facelift but the interiors are shabby, with paint peeling off the walls.

“The cinema is running up losses. The owner gives us our salaries from his own pocket. He just wants to keep the cinema going, hoping for the good days to return,” said Noor Mohammed, 50, who supervises Neelam’s operations.

The owner was not accessible to HT, but projectionist Mohammed Ayoub recalled the halcyon days when he used to host five shows a day to full houses.

“Even girls used to come. For the film Noorie, girls came in huge numbers. When we screened the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Shakti, we had a house full for seven days and there were traffic jams outside as people struggled to get tickets,” Ayoub recollected.

But the times have changed. Zahid Manzoor, a former deputy director with Doordarshan, Srinagar said, “The phobia during the days of militancy forced people to remain indoors and cable TV and DVD players flooded the entertainment market. People got easy entertainment at home and with security,” he said.

Then there is the commercial factor. “For the business community, investing in cinema in Kashmir is a risky affair. The turmoil is not over. They would rather invest in shopping complexes,” Manzoor said.