As cinema halls reopen in J&K after 23 years, a look at how govt's decision is being received by people

The Dhar family and INOX, one of the major film distributors and theatre chains, worked together to create the multiplex

New Delhi: In the 90s, when militancy broke out in Jammu and Kashmir, movie theaters in the valley were forced to close. At the time, Kashmir had about 15 movie theatres, but all of them were forced to close by militants.

This multiplex cinema hall has three movie theatres with a total seating capacity of at least 520 people. The most recent sound systems are installed, and it is exquisitely crafted.

The Dhar family and INOX, one of the major film distributors and theatre chains, worked together to create the multiplex. The cinemas will be thrown open to the public on 30 September.

According to Vikas Dhar, owner of the multiplex, Apart from modern facilities, the design of the multiplex will have a tinge of Kashmiri culture in the form of a paper mache and khatamband ceiling. The local cuisine will also be promoted through food courts.

We will employ qualified locals to run the business. The idea of reopening cinema in the Valley is to provide younger generations with some entertainment to keep them away from bad things.

Dhar claimed that the multiplex cinema will be functional in winter too. ” We have set up a central heating system and cooling arrangements in the hall.”

Dhar said that the mode of buying tickets will be both online and offline and three different movies will be screened at a time in the halls.

Since the closure of movie theatres in the early ’90s, the Administration has been trying hard to reopen cinema halls successfully in Srinagar since then. Apart from Srinagar City, Administration is also trying to open cinemas in the militancy-hit District of Pulwama and Shopian.

On 19 September, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurated a multipurpose cinema hall each in the twin south Kashmir districts of Pulwama and Shopian, describing the occasion as “historic”. Mr Sinha assured us that 100-seaters cinema halls will be open in Anantnag, Srinagar, Bandipora, Ganderbal, Doda, Rajouri, Poonch, Kishtwar, and Reasi soon.

Sinha described the Cinema as a powerful creative medium that reflects the culture, values, and aspirations of the people and shows the faith that it will open the door to the world of knowledge, and discoveries and enables people to get a better understanding of each other’s culture.

According to Sinha, the new cinema halls will generate employment for locals and also provide a vibrant space for training the youth and conducting seminars.

Public reaction

There is a mixed reaction of the public regarding the reopening of cinemas in Srinagar and people seem less interested in this move though the film enthusiasts are excited about the move However the common masses believe that there is no significance of these cinemas now.

A businessman, who wishes not to be named, told Firstpost “I believe that with the advancement of technology, everyone has LED, TV, Smartphone, laptop and other gadgets at home and there will hardly be anyone interested in these theaters now except children. I believe that instead of cinemas, the government should have built sports stadiums which are conflict free.”

“An attempt to reopen cinemas was made by Farooq Abdullah led in 1999, however, the attempts went in vain as the militants carried out a deadly grenade attack on Regal Cinema in September 1999 in Lal Chowk and under the current circumstances, I pray to God for everything to remain safe and stable. Once these cinemas open, the security arrangements need to be beefed up to ensure safety and security for every visiting person,” he added.

Ansar Ahmed Pundit, 23, who is a young Cinematographer told Firstpost, “Being a student of film studies, I see there is the potential of “Best” filmmaking in each corner of the Valley. There are thousands of stories to tell. The new dawn of cinema hall openings should provide a platform to local film culture and production in the region instead of promoting the non-local brand and production.”

“I expect the opening of the new cinema halls in Kashmir would encourage local talented youth who are associated with the profession to create their best and show their product to the world. This of course will provide jobs to those engaged passively with the profession. If there would be an opportunity to work in a local atmosphere, why would People go outside to get jobs? They would rather work here full zeal,”he added.

“There is no dearth of talent in Kashmir, all we need is a direction and a proper platform,” he further stated.

Past Experiment and Security challenges

In 1999 National Conference government tried to reopen two cinema halls, Broadway, and Neelam, in the high-security areas of Srinagar city by offering interest-free loans of up to Rs 4.5 million to each of the owners for renovation. However, on the very first day, a militant attack took place.

The militants had attacked the viewers with three powerful hand grenades when they were coming out of the heavily guarded theatre. While one grenade exploded amid the crowd leaving the hall, the others were defused by the bomb disposal squad of the police.

One civilian, identified as Hafizullah was killed and twelve other people were left injured. The attack was carried out amid tight security.

A police official on condition of anonymity said, “It’s a challenging task to keep these places safe and violence free considering the past violence in mind. Maintaining peace in Kashmir has always been challenging for the police and we have done it tremendously. As militancy is counting its last days in Kashmir, we hope these cinemas will give some relaxation to the people of Kashmir, who are fed up with the violence now.”

Meanwhile, Former Director General of Police, SP Vaid said, “The security is competent enough to protect these cinema halls, I don’t think there is any issue regarding the security.”

Mubashir Naik is an independent journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir and he tweets at @sule_khaak

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