Rajat Sharma

How Kashmir Valley got its first multiplex after 32 years

AKBAfter a gap of 32 years, Kashmir Valley got its first multiplex in Srinagar on Tuesday, with Lt. Governor Manoj Kumar Sinha cutting the blue ribbon. This is clear indication of a big transformation that has taken place in the trouble-torn valley. I was witness to the inauguration ceremony and I personally felt the transformation that has come among Kashmiri youths. At least three generations of young Kashmiris have missed the magic of watching movies in cine theatres for the last three decades. All cinema halls in the Valley were forcibly closed down by jihadi terrorists in 1990.

Forget metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai, even Tier-II towns like Moradabad, Saharanpur, Bathinda, Rohtak, Bhiwani and Bharuch have multiplexes nowadays, but for the people of Srinagar, it was a dream come true on Tuesday. I have no words to explain the meaning behind the smiles that I saw on the faces of Kashmiri youths, who had lined up to buy tickets.

Imagine, Salman Khan’s 1989 superhit film ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ was never screened in the cinema theatres of the valley. In 2014, when Salman Khan had gone to the Valley for shooting ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, there were throngs of youths watching him doing the shooting scenes, but they could not watch his movie in the Valley. I was with Salman during the shooting in Pahalgam for three days. Salman’s words still ring in my ears. He told me, “Just think, so many Kashmiris are working in this film, but there is not a single cinema hall in Kashmir for them to watch the movie. It is really sad”.

Kashmiris will no more have to go to Jammu to watch ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ or Shahrukh’s movie ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’. Interestingly, the Inox multiplex built in Srinagar is owned by Vijay Dhar, a reputed Kashmiri Pandit businessman. I know Vijay Dhar for the last 40 years. He used to be adviser to former PM Late Rajiv Gandhi. He is the son of Late D. P. Dhar, a senior adviser to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Vijay Dhar has done much work in the field of education in Kashmir Valley.

An avowed supporter of ‘Kashmiriyat’, Vijay Dhar told me he has not built the multiplex to make money. “My dream is to see that the Valley regains its touch of paradise. I remember the day, when my theatre closed down in 1990. Sunny Deol’s movie ‘Yateem’ was being screened. Terrorism made Kashmir a ‘yateem’(orphan). Our aim is to bring back the shine to Kashmir Valley and repay the debt to our land of birth”, Vijay Dhar said.

The Inox multiplex took five years to complete in the high security zone, Shivpora, near Badami Bagh cantonment. It has a total seating capacity of 520, and all the three movie theatres have been built with hi-tech sound system and state-of-the-art technology. There is a food court in the multiplex. While inaugurating the multiplex, Lt. Gov. Manoj Sinha said, “At this place was Broadway cinema, the first film shown here was Shammi Kapoor’s movie ‘Jaanwar”. The film was shot at the Dal Lake nearby. The lovers of cinema are back here today”.

India TV reporter Manzoor Mir spoke to local youths who watched the movie in the multiplex. They looked happy after being deprived of cinema halls for the last three decades. Several of them said, they used to go to Jammu to watch movies. Some of them said, new job opportunities will open up if cinema halls reopen. On Tuesday, Aamir Khan’s movie ‘Lal Singh Chaddha’ was screened. From September 30, cinegoers can watch Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan’s movie ‘Vikram Vedha’. The multiplex will screen the first day, first show on September 30, along with the rest of the country.

Prior to 1990, there were only 15 cinema theatres in Kashmir Valley, out of which nine were in Srinagar and the remaining six in other districts. The major cinema halls in Srinagar were Broadway, Regal, Neelam, Firdous, Shiraaz, Khayyam, Naaz and Shah. When Pakistan-sponsored terrorism reared its head in 1989, a terror outfit, Allah Tigers, warned cinema hall owners to close down their theatres or face punitive action. From January 1, 1990, all cinema theatres shut shop in the Valley.

In 1999, three cinema halls Regal, Neelam and Broadway were reopened in Srinagar, but terrorists threw a hand grenade during the first show in Regal cinema, killing one and injuring 12 others. Regal cinema hall was closed down, and the fear was so palpable that the other two theatres, Broadway and Neelam, were also closed down. Several cinema halls were converted into security camps, while some other halls were converted into hotels and hospitals.

A multiplex is not merely a place to watch a movie, it is a symbol of freedom, a place where one can link up with others. Multiplexes provide jobs, apart from entertainment. I remember Salman Khan’s words, during the shooting of ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. Salman had then said, “The vales of Kashmir are more beautiful than those of Switzerland. I feel great while doing my shooting scenes here. If the government provides us internet connectivity, good hotels and better vehicles, no force on earth can prevent Kashmir from becoming a great shooting destination”. I would like to remind Salman Khan about his promise. I would request him and others from film industry to start shooting films in Kashmir.

Apart from the multiplex in Srinagar, two cinema halls were opened in Pulwama and Shopian two days ago by Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha. He has promised to open more multi-purpose cinema halls in every district of Jammu and Kashmir. Cinema halls will be opened in Anantnag, Srinagar, Bandipora, Ganderbal, Doda, Rajouri, Poonch and Kishtwar. In Pulwama cinema hall, Kashmiri girls wearing hijab turned up in large numbers to watch ‘RRR’, the superhit movie.

From Shammi Kapoor to Yash Chopra, many actors and directors popularized Kashmir as a great tourist destination by doing song sequences in the valley. The people of Kashmir took pride watching these movies. With the onset of terrorism in the Valley, the cinema theatres were closed down, but film shootings continued. After 32 year-long-wait, the people of Kashmir will now fulfil their dream of watching movies in cinema halls.

Many movies like ‘Student of the Year’, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, ‘Hyder’, “Highway’, ‘Phantom’, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ ‘Fitoor’ and “Raazi”, were shot in the Kashmir Valley, but the people of the valley could not watch them in cine theatres. They had to visit Jammu or other states to watch these movies, or watched them on TV. Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha told me that he would soon bring a new film policy for Kashmir, in which facilities and benefits will be given to big film makers for shooting their scenes in Kashmir. Moreover, Kashmiri youths will also get special benefits in order to encourage them to make movies here. Sinha has vowed to bring back the days of paradise back in Kashmir.

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