By Shubhangi Shah
“Some businesses you do by using your head, some from your heart. And when you do something with your heart, you are not worried about the dangers,” said Vijay Dhar, the Kashmiri businessman who is opening a multiplex in Srinagar, Kashmir, this month in collaboration with movie theatre chain Inox. This is no ordinary theatre, but the first to come up in the valley after over three decades of insurgency in the region, which forced the over dozen cinema halls in the valley to shut after they came under attacks by militants, who termed them ‘un-Islamic’.
The Broadway Cinema, run by Dhar’s family, was one, which closed before it was burnt down in the mid-nineties. The new multiplex building has come up at the same site where the old Broadway cinema, “considered among the best in Kashmir and beyond”, was situated, at Sonwar, a high-security zone close to an army camp.
When asked about the intent, Dhar replied, “There is no source of entertainment here, especially for youngsters. Why shouldn’t my youngsters have the same facility as their contemporaries in Jammu or Delhi?”
“Kashmir and India’s film industry have had a long and enduring relationship,” Inox CEO Alok Tandon told FE, adding, “With this multiplex, we endeavour to rebuild and strengthen that connect and bring in entertainment to the valley, served with a top-class experience.”
The multiplex, which is set to open “by the end of September”, will house three screens with a total seating capacity of 520 and a food court. “One theatre will be 3-D, and soon, I think, Inox is planning to do a 5-D too,” said Dhar, who plans to open a gaming zone on the premises as well for the younger crowd. “Movies from all Indian languages as well as English, and in all genres, will be showcased here,” the Inox chief said, adding that “the work is in the finishing stages and we are very close to opening”.
On the intent behind it, he said, “We are always on the lookout for opportunities to add screens to our presence across the country. As and when an opportunity emerges, we evaluate and take a decision on the basis of business feasibility, which goes well with our objective of taking entertainment closer to the masses. We are happy to have found a great opportunity in the Kashmir valley.”
Speaking on the anticipated response, Tandon said, “expectations are very high” and that “there is no doubt that this multiplex will win the hearts of movie lovers in the valley”.
Public anticipation is also high. “I haven’t watched any movie in a theatre here,” said Arif Amin, a 27-year-old software engineer based in Srinagar. “But I have heard from my parents and grandparents about the craze for movies. It is a good thing that the multiplex is opening. We will get a source of entertainment and people will also get employment,” he said.
While Amin has never witnessed Kashmir’s cinema scene, Kashmiri filmmaker Mushtaaque Ali Ahmad Khan (62) has, who reminisces those bygone days when there used to be a “huge rush at cinema halls and it was tough to get a ticket of a good movie”. Hence, according to him, the multiplex “means a lot” for the valley.However, concerns around security loom large.
“I think it is going to be a headache too, as 100% security cannot be guaranteed,” said Khan, recounting the fate of cinema halls that have been among the victims of insurgency. Some of them are lying in ruins while others have been converted for use of the army or commercial purposes. When asked about security, Dhar termed it “the government’s concern, not mine”.
Security remains a concern given the latest spate of attacks in the valley, especially against minorities and non-locals. Also, it is not that efforts were not undertaken in the past to revive cinema in Kashmir. A major push was given during former J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s tenure in the late 1990s when three cinemas — Regal, Neelam, and Dhar’s Broadway — were opened. “I remember watching the cult classic Mughal-E-Azam in colour at Broadway,” recounted Khan.
However, militants carried out a grenade attack at Regal, which killed one and injured several movie-goers. Meanwhile, Neelam and Broadway struggled over a lack of audience. “We opened for a short while, but had to shut for a lack of audience,” Dhar said.
Former CM Mehbooba Mufti’s warm ‘welcome’ to Saudi Arabia’s decision to reopen theatres in the Islamic kingdom in 2017 was also met with stiff opposition. “Introspection and self-reform are marks of a progressive society,” Mufti had tweeted then.
Although the kingdom’s move was welcomed by many across the political spectrum, stiff opposition came from late separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who called theatres against the “norms of Islam” and termed the move “quite disheartening and unacceptable”.However, in a major push toward films, the Centre has launched a Jammu & Kashmir Film Policy last year. Apart from other things, it included prospects of setting up a film development council along with the revival of closed cinema halls.