Srinagar gets first multiplex; Cinemas back in Kashmir after 3 decades
Lieutenant governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha inaugurated the first multiplex of the Valley , where cinema halls were forced to shut in the early 1990s amid spread of terrorism
Cinemas are back in trouble torn Kashmir after three decades as Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha inaugurated the Valley’s first multiplex in Srinagar on Tuesday.
The Inox multiplex, owned by a Kashmiri Pandit business family from Srinagar, took five years for completion and has a total seating capacity of 520. Consisting of three movie theatres, it has been built with state-of-the- art technology at the high security zone, Shivpora, near Badami Bagh Cantonment.
Sinha cut the blue ribbon with members of the Pundit family including Vijay Dhar, the owner of the multiplex.
“Inaugurated INOX multiplex theatre in Srinagar: Congratulations to the people, Sh. Vijay Dhar & INOX Group. A major Socio-economic revolution is sweeping through J&K in the last 3 years. It is reflection of a new dawn of hope, dreams, confidence and aspirations of people,” said Manoj Sinha.
“At this place was Broadway cinema, the first film shown here was Janwar by late Shammi Kapoor. That film was shot at the nearby Dal lake. The lovers of cinema are here today,” Sinha said soon after throwing the multiplex open.
“Only two days ago, two multi-purpose cinemas at Pulwama and Shopian were opened under the youth mission. We have a target to establish 100-seat cinema halls under mission youth in every district of J&K,” he added.
Sinha also said shooting of many films is going on here under the new film policy. “We have selected land for the film city. In the new film policy there are a lot of avenues for local youths and if they will make small films they will get a lot of incentives so that locals will get employment.”
“For us, this is a big dream which has come true. This decision directly came from heart and I have no words to express the joy of seeing the opening of the first multiplex of Kashmir,” said Vikas Dhar, who said it was a dream project for his brother and father who also run one of the prestigious educational institutions of the city.
In 2018, M/S Taksal Hospitality Pvt Ltd, owned by Dhars, applied for permission for the multiplex and got the license after checking safety, security and other measures at the location where Dhars had an old cinema hall named as Broadway.
“Today’s show was for guests and media persons only. The multiplex will open regularly from September 30 and there will be morning, afternoon and evening shows. We will try to show the latest movies in our multiplex, which is one of the modern multiplex of the country. Watching movie here will be a life time experience,” he said adding that sitting in the cinema will be a new experience for movie buffs. “We have installed state-of-the-art equipment. And it will all be a different experience than what it used to be 30 years ago in cinema halls of Kashmir.”
Dhar said that when they decided to open a multiplex in Kashmir, profit was never in their mind. “We wanted to give our people entertainment and hope people will join in good numbers to watch movies once the regular shows begin,” Dhar said.
“From past three decades, many things have changed the way films are shown in cinema halls. It is completely different nowadays. The film which gets released in Mumbai could be shown here also.”
Aamir Khan starrer ‘Lal Singh Chadda’ was the first Bollywood movie screened during the inaugural show. “The LSC was also shot in Srinagar and some scenes were taken at our school that is the reason why we selected this film for the inaugural show,” Dhar said.
The inauguration marked a new beginning in the history of cinema in the Valley and it began with a Kashmiri message rolled out on the big screen, ‘Myoun Cinema’ (My Cinema), with a picture of Manoj Sinha in the background. The first message alsosaid: “The beginning of a new era and Kashmir’s first multiplex.”
The trailers of films such as ‘Vikram’, ‘Janwaar’, ‘Silsila’ and ‘Haider’ were played on the screen. Major portion of these blockbuster films were shot in Kashmir.
Last week, Sinha inaugurated “multi-purpose” cinema halls in Pulwama and Shopian, calling it a “historic day”. Pulwama and Shopian are considered as the volatile districts of south Kashmir which has seen several counter terrorism activities.
In Kashmir Valley, nearly a dozen stand-alone cinema halls were functioning in Kashmir till the late 1980s including in rural townships, but they were forced to shut in the early 1990s amid spread of terrorism. Though authorities made attempts to reopen some of the theatres in the late 1990s, the same were thwarted after terrorists carried out a deadly grenade attack on Regal Cinema in the heart of Lal Chowk in September 1999, killing one person on the day the theatre was reopened. Two other theatres — Neelam and Broadway — also opened in high security areas of Srinagar but were closed again. Many cinema halls have been converted into shopping complexes and nursing homes while some have been occupied by the paramilitary forces.
Names like Firdous, Sheeraz, Neelam, Broadway, Khyber, Samad Talkies, Regina, Shahkar etc with handwritten billboards of movies and film stars proved a major source of entertainment in the yesteryears. Even the Army had established three to four cinemas in the Valley close to its camps and named them after famous military men - Thimaya, Zorawar et al. However, these cinemas got closed due to terrorist threats in early 1990’s. Now the cinemas are used by army as conference halls.
“In Kashmir, I watched the last movie in late 1980’s. Since I spend winters in Jammu, I used to watch film in cinema hall as it is a different experience to watch films inside the hall,” said Ghulam ud din Bhar, a film artist who also played a brief role in films like ‘Haider’ and ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. “It is a good decision that cinemas are opening again. I still watch good movies to learn acting.”
Under the shadow of security, OTT
However, watching films under the shadow of security is not always entertaining.
“Cinemas came to Kashmir decades ago and there used to be long queues of movie goers on every Sunday to buy tickets. Now cinemas are back after three decades. Many things have changed since late 1980’s. It remains to be seen whether people will bring their families to watch films when there is always a risk of an attack. Even cinema is fast changing with the arrival of Netflix, OTT (over-the-top media service) and other platforms. Let’s hope, this works. In the past, opening of cinema by local governments failed,” said Shiekh Wahid, an entrepreneur and line producer.
A section of the security officials are apprehensive that these cinemas could become potential target for the terrorists, especially when targeted attacks are taking place in Kashmir despite high security arrangements. However, many term this as a good beginning and a turning point.
“Some things are worth fighting for. It is not just cinema back in Kashmir, but a momentous turning point in history. #INOX in Srinagar,” senior police officer Imtiyaz Hussain said in a tweet while sharing the trailer of the film from the multiplex.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sees opening of cinemas in Kashmir as a big success, the other political parties say that peace should never be linked with such initiatives. “It is a good step and hope it helps creating a positive impact on people but opening of cinemas halls or similar activities does not necessarily mean normalcy, it’s a barometer of economic activity. Don’t forget under former chief minister Omar Abdullah, Kashmir witnessed the biggest orchestra event where music maestro Zubin performed at Shalimar Garden,” said Tanvir Sadiq, National Conference chief spokesman and advisor to former chief minister, Omar Abdullah.
PDP spokesman Mohit Bhan welcomed the cinemas but said “unfortunately everyone is becoming an actor here”. “Two new theatres opened in Pulwama and Shopian are basically two auditoriums and conference rooms fitted with projectors. These are a joke and media must go and see them if they qualify for a cinema. I do not understand the rush when after 33 years a genuine cinema was coming up. I wish they could encourage entrepreneurs to really open one in south and north on the lines of the one in Srinagar.”
Mohit, who hails from South Kashmir but lives in the city, said that it is a civil initiative and they aren’t averse to entertainment. “Our youth and our society deserve space but why jail the same youngsters without any trials or why book religious clergy, even the Sufi clergy, when everything is moving forward and there is no law and order situation here. They are creating two Kashmirs - one is their Kashmir the government sponsored and the other is ours, the people’s Kashmir, the real Kashmir.”
BJP state spokesman Altaf Thakur said that opening of cinemas will open the minds of younger generation in the Valley. “We don’t want fundamentalism here. Now cinemas are opening in Saudi Arabia and why shouldn’t Kashmir have spaces for entertainment. Now terrorists won’t be able to shut cinemas because terrorism is on the decline and in coming months there won’t be any terrorists left in Kashmir.”
Mushtaaque Ali Ahmad Khan, filmmaker and festival director, said that it is a very good beginning. “The history of cinema in Kashmir dates back to pre-partition days when the first cinema was established in the city by the name of Kashmir Talkies which later became Palladium cinema in the heart of the city. Now that is in ruins. Earlier, there wasn’t any film produced in Bollywood which didn’t have any connection with Kashmir, at least shooting of one the songs used to be done in Kashmir. Then things changed altogether. Now we are seeing revival of Kashmir in Hindi cinema and there will be new connection between Kashmir and Bollywood which will help local artists and our economy in a big way,” he said.
Khan, who has already organised four to five film festivals in Srinagar and is himself an actor, said that there were around 500 proposals for shooting of films and songs waiting for the approval. “Out of them, more than 120 have been approved and it is mandatory for the producers to employ a certain percentage of local artists, which will help us in a long way.” He said watching film on mobile or television is completely different from watching film at cinemas. “Everybody is happy about this, especially the local artists.”