Thirty-two years after the separatist militants imposed 'ban' on cinema and enforced it with repression and violence, the valley of Kashmir is all set to get the first ever multiplex theatre in September 2022. A prominent political and business family with stake in entertainment, education and hospitality, has completed the construction of a complex which would start screening of the popular Indian films next month.
This multiplex of three auditoriums with 520 seats is coming up in Srinagar's Shivpora area where the Kashmiris for decades enjoyed Bollywood hits at the popular Broadway Cinema. Sources revealed that initially the owners were holding negotiations with Priya Village Roadshow Ltd (PVR), the pioneers of multiplex revolution in India, to operate the entertainment hub with all the modern facilities. However their agreement matured with INOX Leisure which finally designed the theatres.
Early this year PVR and Inox announced their merger at a time when PVR was operating 871 screens at 181 properties in 73 Indian cities while Inox ran 675 screens at 160 properties in 72 cities. There were a total of 9500 screens across India which remained closed and suffered huge losses due to the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Among the two capital cities in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu has over a dozen cinema halls. Some of them have been turned into multiplexes in the last 10 years. A number of theatres are also operating in Udhampur, Kathua and other major towns in the Jammu province.
“There are two motives behind this initiative. One is to provide facilities for entertainment to the children and other is to strengthen the bond between Kashmir and the Indian film industry. Kashmir’s relationship with Indian film industry was too good in the past, so it will be a contribution towards reviving the previous relation,” says Vikas Dhar, the owner of multiplex theatre .
In the very beginning of a separatist-Islamist movement in Kashmir, cinema, beauty parlours, video libraries, wine shops and other entertainment outlets were 'banned' across the valley by militants with the ultimate deadline of 31 December 1989 after a six-month-long sustained campaign. Dukhtaran-e-Millat of Asiya Andrabi and 'Air Marshal Noor Khan', with the guerrilla outfits 'Allah Tigers' and 'Hizbullah' at their back, were at the forefront of the campaign which received the first peoples support during a flare up against Salman Rushdie's controversial novel 'Satanic Verses'.
Days after the JKLF militants forced the Government of India to bow before it's diktats and got five of their colleagues released in exchange for the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's kidnapped daughter Rubaiya Sayeed, a permanent ban was enforced on cinema in December 1989. This resulted in closure of all the 17 cinema theatres in Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Handwara and Anantnag towns.
After Farooq Abdullah's National Conference (NC) returned to power in 1996, several attempts were made by the State Government to revive cinema. On 7 August 1998, Vijay Dhar's 'Broadway' was thrown open with the screening of the Bollywood movie 'Kareeb' with a financial support from Farooq's government. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra and the film's heroine Neha Bajpai were among those who attended the inauguration.
Farooq subsequently managed to reopen two more theatres– Regal and Neelam– in Srinagar around the same period. However the militants spread a fresh wave of fear with a grenade attack which killed one person and left several others injured at Regal. They also staged an encounter with the security forces at Neelam, in the arm of the Civil Secretariat. Consequently, all the three theatres were again closed.
In 1990s, security forces set up their camps at Shah Cinema, Firdaus and Sheeraz and some other theatres. Later, some theatres were converted into business complexes and hospitals.
Kashmir used to be the outdoor shooting hub for Bollywood and other Indian films from 1940 to 1989. MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalitha, Dileep Kumar, Nargis, Shami Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia were among the top Indian film celebrities who acted in a long list of the Indian movies shot in Kashmir. Even after the closure of cinema, more than 20 Indian films, including Vidhu Vinod Chopra's 'Mission Kashmir' and 'Shikara', Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Haider' and Vivek Agnihotri's 'Kashmir Files', were shot in Kashmir.
In early 2021, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha's government introduced Jammu and Kashmir's first film policy with the commitment of security, financial and logistic support to the people who were interested in shooting their films in the Union Territory or to revive and establish theatres in the valley. Land and other substantial benefits have also been offered to the entrepreneurs for establishing film studios in the UT. Officials say that a number of the film producers, including those who want to shoot serials for OTT, have submitted their proposals to the government.