Whenever Emraan Bhatt returns home from Mumbai, his days are spent inside the four walls of a café on the Boulevard Road in Srinagar, a city which lacks almost all the avenues of entertainment, including a working movie theater.
So Bhatt, a supervising producer in the television industry and ad filmmaking, who works in Mumbai, but is on and off in the Kashmir Valley, wonders where do the younger generation of Kashmir go for entertaining themselves.
"I fail to think of a city in India or any other place in South Asia, where you have to travel 300 kilometres to watch a movie," says Bhatt, 28, who lives in Hyderpora area of Srinagar. "You can’t argue now this place is worse than Saudi Arabia. They will soon have cinemas open in there," he adds.
The cinema theaters were closed in the Valley after the armed insurgency broke out, backed by a mass uprising in 1989. The Kashmir Valley had as many as 15 operational cinema halls with a very ardent following of both Hollywood and Hindi cinema. As the writ of gun-wielding men ran at large on the streets, the movie theatres become the first casualties of the rebellion.
Militant organisations started issuing diktats for the closure of all cinema halls characterising them as un-Islamic and hence, detrimental to the cause of the 'freedom struggle'. In some cases, cinemas became targets of mysterious explosions and threatening letters.
As New Delhi started militarising the valley to crush the insurgency, these cinema halls were taken over by government forces, used as lodging centres for detainees and in some cases torture chambers as well. Most of them in Srinagar and other districts were evacuated by forces but their doors remained closed for the moviegoers.
For decades now, the mainstream political parties in this Muslim majority Valley deliberately stayed away from speaking up for the case of opening of the cinema halls, purportedly due to the fear of militants and mullahs. Now, both the parties, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition National Conference are openly saying that they are in the favour of the opening of the cinema halls, citing the example of Saudi Arabia to generate debate about the opening of the cinema halls.
“Why not?” asks Sartaj Madni, the vice-president of the Peoples Democratic Party, adding, “When Saudi Arabia can open cinemas, why not in Kashmir? For how long will we deny our children the usual means of entertainment and enjoyment in their lives?”
The opposition National Conference leader Junaid Matoo too seems to be agreeing with Madani.
The re-opening of the cinema halls in the Valley is largely a political issue, Matoo said. "How would any government claim semblances of normalcy having returned to the Valley without providing them the usual avenues of entertainment like cinema?"
Zero Bridge, a wooden architecture marvel in the Raj Bagh area of Srinagar, is one of the many hangout locations where youngsters spend their evenings. But under the prevailing freezing cold, it is a difficult choice as waves of chilled air from river Jhelum flowing beneath the bridge make people tremble.
“At least on Saturdays we should get a chance to see a movie. Peoples travel to Jammu if they want to see a movie or a new movie. Why should there be no cinema in Kashmir,” Rizwan Rishi, 19, a student, told Firstpost on Wednesday evening.
“We are forced to stay inside after 6 pm and except for TV, there is nothing in our lives. This is obviously frustrating,” he added.
Now that Saudi Arabia is planning to open theatres, both the government and the opposition are pitching for the opening of the cinema halls in the Valley. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti welcomed the decision of Saudi Arabia to open cinemas.
“I welcome the decision by Saudi Arabia to lift a decade-long ban on cinemas as part of a series of social reforms by the crown prince. Introspection and self-reform are marks of a progressive society,” she said in a tweet.
However, surprisingly, separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani, was the only one from Kashmir to oppose the decision of Saudi Arabia.
Geelani expressed dismay over allowing movie theatres in Saudi Arabia, saying that opening movie theatres is an un-Islamic move and against the "norms of Islam and particularly keeping in view the sanctity of these places, the move is quite disheartening and unacceptable".
Geelani said that the “rulers in Saudi Arabia, being the custodian of holy places like Madeena and Mecca, need to take care. It is quite unfortunate that the present ruling elite (in Saudi Arabia) is allowing and promoting (the) same obscene culture, which Islam has prohibited.”
The problem is that the state government, as well as the Centre, has always clubbed opening of the cinemas with the return of normalcy in the troubled Valley. This has irked separatists who argue that if the cinemas are opened as a sign of normalcy, then no time is the right time to open them. Will the powers-that-be utilise the weapon of silence this time around so that Kashmir gets the much-needed source of entertainment that it has been denied, willfully?
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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2017 12:18:33 IST