A multi-screen building in Srinagar began showing movies more than two decades after cinemas closed due to armed conflict.
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – After a gap of 23 years, cinemas have returned to Indian-administered Kashmir with the opening of a multiplex in the main city of Srinagar.
Manoj Sinha, governor of the disputed region appointed by New Delhi, on Tuesday inaugurated its first docking station in the beautiful city, with Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha is the opening fare.
The government says it plans to set up cinemas in every district in the region, where a popular uprising against Indian rule has killed tens of thousands of people since the 1990s.
“The government is committed to changing the perception of Jammu and Kashmir, and we know people want entertainment and they want to watch movies,” Sinha told reporters as he opened the 520-seat hall, part of a multi-family chain. Indian Stainless Steel in cooperation with Kashmiri businessman Vijay Dhar.
Dhar told Al Jazeera: “Cinema is ingrained in our blood because my family owned a famous Broadway theater that was closed in the 1990s. “We realized that there was no source of entertainment. mind for the youth and we took the initiative. We want to bring new technology into Kashmir.”
Indian-administered Kashmir had dozens of cinemas until an armed uprising against Indian rule forced them to close in the early 1990s. Many of these complexes have been turned into Indian security camps and fenced with razor wire. Others became shopping complexes and hospitals.
In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government brought India’s only Muslim-majority region under its direct control by removing its special status.
Since then, a series of laws and policies have been implemented there that the government claims will bring development to the region after decades of armed conflict. But residents say the moves are aimed at demographic change belonging to the area.
As public movie screenings return to the area after decades, many Kashmiris recall the old days.
“Watching movies in cinemas is a craze and we would wait endlessly for hours to get a ticket. There will be a huge crowd,” 60-year-old shop owner Muhamad Ashraf told Al Jazeera.
In 1998, the regional government offered financial assistance to some cinema owners to revive them. Some cinemas that were open were forced to close due to suspected rebel attacks or poor public response to the conflict.
In one such incident that year, a bombing occurred when the Royal Cinema, Srinagar’s oldest and most famous, was reopened. The explosion at the city’s Lal Chowk cinema killed one civilian and injured many others, sending shock waves through the valley.
Dhar said two other cinemas in the city – Broadway, which is owned by his family, and Neelam – were closed due to lack of visitors. Many Kashmiris say the poor response is due to the tight security inside the cinemas.
“Those are great times when the family goes to the movies. I live in Anantnag in South Kashmir, where even Hollywood movies are shown,” Kashmiri writer Bashir Dada told Al Jazeera.
“Until the 1980s, everything was fine. All released movies (in other parts of India) are also shown here. Dilip Kumar loved by everyone,” he said, referring to the iconic Bollywood actor who passed away last year.
The governor of Sinha on Sunday also inaugurated two multi-purpose halls in Shopian and Pulwama districts, hotspots of armed insurgency in the region.
The government is also calling on Indian film makers to film their films in the picturesque Himalayan valley, where hundreds of Bollywood films were shot after the invention of color cinema in the 1960s. .
Last year, the government also announced a policy aimed at promoting Indian-administered Kashmir into the popular film-making destination it used to be.