Bollywood Returns To Kashmir, Movies Donít

Bollywood Returns To Kashmir, Movies Donít

28 September 2013
Times of India
Avijit Ghosh

Srinagar: Concertina wires, armoured vehicles and security forces with assault rifles - that's what one sees outside the ruined Palladium cinema at Lal Chowk, in the heart of Srinagar. In the early nineties, the movie theatre burnt down in a blaze that broke out after a gun battle between militants and security forces. What remains is a roofless edifice propped up by broken blue pillars and secured with a lock clasped around a rusty collapsible grille. But like many lost objects of desire, Palladium endures in memory. Old-timers recall how it would fill up with cigarette smoke during screenings, how the audience whistled when power went off abruptly, and how the rats would scurry around unmindful of Amitabh Bachchan's on-screen rage. The television, say movie lovers, simply doesn't match up to the thrill of watching the big screen come alive. At a time when Hindi filmmakers have returned to shoot in the strife-torn Valley - Student of the Year, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and the upcoming Highway were all shot in Kashmir - that's both sad and ironic. Abdul Qayoom remembers being carried on his uncle's shoulders to the theatre for a re-run of Dilip Kumar's Ganga Jamuna in the early 1980s. 'I used to be afraid of cinema halls, often wondering what happened in the dark. From that day, I was hooked,' he says. Even today, he remembers every movie moment with clarity; even obscure films like Ma Ke Aansoo starring Ajit and Nalini Jaywant. Kashmir changed with the rise of the separatist movement in 1989. Cinema halls became an ideological casualty as militants ordered their closure for being 'un-Islamic'. All theatres in Srinagar - Palladium, Broadway, Neelam, Regal, Naz, Shah, Khayam, Khyber, Shiraj and Firdaus - shut down. Three cinema halls - Broadway, Neelam and Regal - were brave enough to reopen. But grenades ensured they didn't stay open for long. When Regal reopened with Sunny Deol's Pyar Koi Khel Nahin in September 1999, militants lobbed three hand grenades at viewers coming out of the hall the very first day. One person died, and a dozen were injured. Broadway too didn't last long. Even the best movies couldn't pull crowds; the risk didn't seem to be worth it. Neelam, locals say, shut shop sometime in 2010. The only time you hear of Srinagar's cinema halls is in the context of a terror attack. There was one outside Naz last week and it left one CISF personnel dead and another injured. Conflict zones have their own logic of demand and supply. Neelam, like a few others, has morphed into a paramilitary barrack. Khayam cinema - Sholay celebrated its silver jubilee there, recalls shopkeeper Mohd Ashraf - has become a hospital. There is buzz that a few others might also find life after death in some other avatar. The two former cinema hall owners that this reporter tried to speak with refused to open up. Mohd Yousuf Mir, who runs a small transport business, says two decades of militancy has killed his passion for cinema. 'Once I rented a VCR for Rs 250 to watch three Hindi movies in one night. I loved Anil Kapoor. Par woh junoon khatam ho gaya (that craze is dead),' he says. Ashraf, who used to frequent the theatres, still remember the ticket rates of the 1980s. But his two daughters and son have grown up in different times and are not enamoured of the big screen. One of the daughters is studying to be an engineer; the other, a teacher. 'They barely get time to watch a TV show, movies are too long,' he says. By the pavement on Residency Road, Mohammed Hussain peddles VCDs, MP3s and CDs for computer games. 'Business has plummeted after the arrival of pen drives. People just download films and music for free from the net these days,' he says. Thankfully, for him, labourers from Bihar still buy Bhojpuri music CDs and VCDs from him. But Qayoom retains his passion for the movies. Like many Kashmiris, he watches Hindi films on satellite TV now. 'Set-top boxes are costly but they are sold in black. I have three set-top boxes and three television sets in my house. Tell me, what's life without entertainment,' he asks.