As the lights went out at the auditorium, a deafening but familiar “yahoo” cry greeted the audience at Kashmir’s first multiplex. It was the evergreen song “Chahe koi mujhe junglee” featuring Shammi Kapoor that was shot in Kashmir in 1961.
The song ended with a tag line, “Kashmir has witnessed every emotion of Bollywood,” and drew a big applause. It was followed by more nostalgia — a montage of Bollywood songs, starring from the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Rakhee Gulzar and Shashi Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor — reminding one of Hindi cinema’s link with Kashmir, a favourite shooting location.
Madhu Gauri, a local who was in the audience, said later: “I am very happy and emotional at the same time. I belonged to a family that owned the famous Palladium cinema in Srinagar and have witnessed people thronging from faraway places to watch movies. I can’t express my feelings today.”
The silver screen finally returned to Kashmir on Tuesday after hardly any screenings in the past three decades, with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurated the INOX multiplex. The cinema, owned by Kashmiri Pandit businessman Vijay Dhar, is a stone’s throw away from the headquarters of the Indian Army’s 15 Corps in a high-security zone.
The inauguration was followed by a screening of the Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chadhha, viewed by an audience that included media persons, officials, guests and local residents.
Dhar is awaiting the release of Vikram Vedha starring Hrithik Roshan on September 30 to screen movies regularly for the public. The multiplex will have three shows daily. “We will begin it with the screening of Vikram Vedha. The first show will be at 12 pm, the second at 3 pm, and the last at 9 pm,” said Dhar.
Until 1990, Kashmir had scores of movie theatres, but with the rise of militancy, every cinema in the Valley was closed. The government attempted to reopen a few movie theatres during 1999-2000, but was compelled to shut them down after attacks by militant groups.
The all-new multiplex experience was savoured by those who made it on Tuesday. “I haven’t seen such a beautiful multiplex anywhere in the country. It is a place for fun and entertainment and I am sure people will love it,” said Saqib Ahmad, a self-confessed movie buff.
Shah Adnan, an entrepreneur, was similarly elated. “We all watch movies and so far OTT platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix have been our source of entertainment. It is really exciting for people, particularly the youth, to have a multiplex in Srinagar,” he said.
Sami Khan, 28, is planning to catch the first day first show of Vikram Vedha. “I have been following all the news about the multiplex. My friends and I have already planned to watch the first show of Vikram Vedha.”
The opening of the multiplex will be a boost for local filmmakers and actors, believes Mushtaaque Ali Khan, who has been an actor and filmmaker for four decades. “We have been advocating the reopening of cinema halls in Kashmir for a long time. This has brought back memories of a time when Hindi, Punjabi and English films were screened in cinemas and hundreds of people would watch them,” he said.
Khan, 62, added that the absence of cinema had cost local artists heavily. “I held many film festivals in Srinagar but all the films were screened in Tagore Hall, which is just a stage for drama and theatre. There was no large screen facility. Fortunately, now that the multiplex has been set up in Srinagar we hope more such cinemas will open in Kashmir.”
Thirty-year-old Tahir Hussain, a young filmmaker from Kashmir is equally happy with the opening of the multiplex in Kashmir.
Added Tahir Hussain, a 32-year-old filmmaker: “The opening of cinemas will benefit artists from Kashmir to showcase their films on the big screen. This was much needed, as Kashmiris should have the liberty and access to cinema like people in the rest of the states.”
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Sinha announced that 100-seater cinemas would be set up in every district of the Valley soon. “In Pulwama and Shopian districts, two multi-purpose cinema halls are coming up shortly,” he said.
The LG also said that a film city would be established in Kashmir. “We will give a lot of incentives to young filmmakers under the new film policy so that local employment is generated.”
In August 2021, the Jammu and Kashmir government unveiled its first-ever film policy months after the J&K Film Development Council (JKFDC) was set up to attract Bollywood. One of the main aims of the policy is to reopen closed cinemas and set up multiplexes in the Valley.
“The government of Jammu and Kashmir shall encourage and incentivise owners to reopen closed cinema halls. All the incentives to such units shall be governed under the provisions of J&K Industrial Policy 2021,” reads the policy document. The government also proposes upgrading existing cinema halls to “give a unique experience to the viewers”. Incentives are also being offered by the government for setting up multiplexes and new cinema halls in the Union Territory.