Hindi films return to Kashmir as multiplexes reopen

After more than three decades when militants imposed ban on all forms of entertainment, Kashmir is all set to get cinema back (Photo: Twitter/@umerrather007)

Thirty-two years and nine months after the separatist militants imposed ‘blanket ban’ on all forms of entertainment and enforced the same with guns and grenades, the valley of Kashmir is getting the cinema back. Kashmir’s first multiplex, raised by a prominent politico-business family in collaboration with Inox, is being thrown open on Tuesday, 20 September, by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.

The multiplex with three auditoriums of 520 seats, each with the value addition of Dolby Atmos sound system and state-of-the-art celluloid screen, has come up in the Shivpora neighbourhood of Srinagar where the old famous Broadway stood for decades. Broadway, a business venture of the veteran politician and one-time Home Minister Durga Prasad Dhar’s and Lala Tirath Ram Alma’s families, was among the 14 cinema theatres shuttered down under the guerrilla diktat on 31 December 1989.

A well-concerted campaign against cinema, beauty parlours, music cassette kiosks, wine shops and everything that was perceived and labelled as “un-islamic” by the Islamists actually began after the Islamic revolution in Iran in February 1979. It was the time when the Jamaat-e-Islami backed military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq got Zulfikar Ali Bhutto executed in Pakistan. The first slogan for an “Iran-type revolution” in Kashmir came out from the founder of the Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT), Sheikh Tajamul Islam.

Then Chief Minister and President of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah described IJT, JeI’s student wing, as a “serious threat” to peace and harmony in Kashmir and got it banned by the Centre. The NC’s cadre didn’t cede ground to IJT or JeI. In April 1979, when Bhutto was hanged to death, NC’s Lashkar ransacked and set on fire scores of the JeI-dominated villages in South Kashmir. Tens of thousands of the apple trees in orchards were felled by the mobs.

The situation began changing after Sheikh Abdullah’s death in September 1982. Both JeI and IJT had gained substantial ground by the time Moustapha Akkad’s period film “Lion of the Desert”, a biopic on the anti-colonial Libyan guerrilla hero Omar Mukhtar was screened at Srinagar’s Regal cinema. This was the time when Sheikh, held responsible for strengthening J&K’s accession to India, was publicly demonised and labelled as a villain. This was the time when Shabir Shah of the then Peoples League orchestrated a campaign against the liquor shops in Anantnag; when Asiya Andrabi’s Dukhtaraan-e-Millat mobilized women for dismantling “all evils like cinema and fashion”; when the JeI-dominated Muslim United Front (MUF), mother of today’s ‘Hurriyat Conference’ came into existence.

On 18 August 1989, local newspapers published the Allah Tigers chief ‘Air Marshal’ Noor Khan’s diktat of blanket ban on cinema, wine shops, music cassette kiosks and other ‘evils’. However, the same could not be enforced till the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) forced VP Singh’s government to release five of its key cadres in exchange for the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya Sayeed on 13 December 1989. The kidnapping proved a game changer as the celebration of victory by the separatists turned the valley population against India with the slogan of ‘Azadi”. No cinema, wine shop or beauty parlour opened after the “final deadline” of 31 December 1989.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.

Nine years later– and two years after he returned as Chief Minister– Farooq Abdullah made several attempts to revive cinema in Kashmir. On 7 August 1998, he got Vidhu Vinod Chopra, celebrated film director and a resident of Srinagar, to screen his fresh film ‘Kareeb’ at Broadway. Heroine Neha Bajpai was among a galaxy of the guests. Later, Farooq Abdullah managed to reopen two more theatres–Regal and Neelam– in Srinagar. Even as the militants could not sabotage Broadway, which was situated yards from the main entrance of the Army’s 15 Corps at the Badami Bagh cantonment, they engaged the security forces in an encounter at Neelam. One civilian coming out in a crowd after watching a film at Regal was killed and several others left wounded in a grenade attack. All the three theatres closed down again, this time for a longer period.

Twenty-four years later, LG Sinha is inaugurating Kashmir’s first multiplex at the site of Broadway. Broadway’s owner Vijay Dhar began work on the project after Sinha’s government introduced Jammu and Kashmir’s first film policy in April 2021. The policy promises huge incentives to anybody coming forward to revive cinema, reopen the defunct cinema theatres, set up production and post-production facilities and training centres for artistes, directors and technicians.

Aamir Khan’s current release ‘Laal Singh Chhaddha’, in which the Kashmiri child artist Ahmad Ibn Umar is playing the young Laal and Aamir Khan with Kareen Kapoor is the protagonist, is being screening at the inauguration of Inox. The film has been extensively shot in Ladakh and Srinagar.

“We are eagerly waiting for the inauguration. Reopening of this theatre will take us back to the halcyon days when the educated class would prefer Broadway and the lower middle class would jostle for cheap tickets at Palladium, Naaz, Neelam and Regal”, said Mohammad Saleem Wani, a retired government official. He remembers enjoying from Hollywood film ‘Airport 1975’ to Bollywood hits ‘Kranti’, ‘Kabhi Kabhi’, ‘Roti Kapda aur Makaan’, ‘Ram Lakhan’, ‘Sindoor’, ‘Dharmatma’ and ‘Ram Teri Ganga Meli’ at the old Broadway.

“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 the Indian film industry was too good in the past, so it will be a contribution towards reviving the previous relation,” Vikas Dhar from the owners’ family said last month.

In the 1990s, security forces set up their camps at Shah Cinema, Firdaus and Sheeraz and some other theatres in Srinagar. Later, some theatres were converted into business complexes and hospitals. In addition to 9 theatres in Srinagar, there were half a dozen cinema halls in Anantnag, Baramulla, Sopore, Bandipora and Handwara in Kashmir till 1990.

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.

(This article was first published in India Narrative)

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