Kashmir and Bollywood have an age-old connection but going to the movies became a thing of the past in the Valley as cinema took a backseat with the onset of militancy. But, local entrepreneurs are now taking steps to revive movie culture in the erstwhile state. On Tuesday, the first multiplex in the Valley will throw its doors open in Srinagar and will feature Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha.
This will be the first time after many years that people will be able to walk to a movie theater and catch some action on a big screen. In the last three decades, many have tried to revamp cinema halls but have been forced to shut them either due to threats from militants or lack of interest from the public.
“The culture of a family watching a movie together is lost. We are trying to give a comforting place for the young and the old to have full entertainment in Kashmir,” Vijay Dhar, owner of the new multiplex told News18.
A Kashmiri Pandit, Dhar started a premier school in Srinagar years ago when many of his close friends advised him not to enter the militancy-torn Kashmir. A movie buff, he reminisces having spent time on the sets of many top grossers of the 70s and 80s.
“Bollywood and Kashmir have old ties. The first film that I remember was shot here was Barsaat by Raj Kapoor and subsequently Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip saab and Dharmendra came to shoot here. They became my friends,” he said, adding that he wanted to build a state-of-the-art cinema for the entertainment-starved people of Kashmir.
He further said: “We want to revive cinema in Kashmir. Fifty percent people haven’t seen a movie in a cinema.”
From the period between 1990 and 2018, many owners tried to restart cinema but had to shut down within months. Before militancy, there were 10 cinema halls in Srinagar — one each in Anantnag, Sopore and Kupwara — but when violence wreaked havoc in the Valley in 1989, a militant outfit called ‘Allah Tigers’ banned the movies. The owners and staff were rendered jobless and it took them years to get back on their feet.
“We will launch cinema in all districts of the Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from entertainment, youth will be exposed to infotainment and education,” said J&K lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha, while inaugurating auditoriums or temporary cinema halls in Pulwama and Shopian.
But it is the Srinagar multiplex, which is grabbing eyeballs. “All is set for the launch,” said Ehsan Ahmad, who is closely monitoring the work at the multiplex in Shivpora locality.
It has 520 seats and is located within the close vicinity of the army headquarters – 15 Corps, also known as Chinar Corps. It is a secure area with round-the-clock vigil. The multiplex has three auditoriums, two of which will beam the Aamir Khan movie on Tuesday.
The staff said they had received requests to run the latest Aamir Khan movie, as he had shot for the movie in DPS at Srinagar.
Ahmad said there will be a select screening on Tuesday, but the cinema will be thrown open to the public on September 30. “We will have special shows for families and ladies. We are even thinking of beaming movies for children,” he added. “We want cinema to be enjoyed by all sections of the society.”