Kashmir Got Another Hangout, This Time Full of Entertainment

KO Photos By Abid Bhat

“Not that we need this space for watching movies, but it will definitely become one of the go-to places in Srinagar now.”

THE show screened in the Cantonment area of Srinagar on Tuesday was seen as a step to undo the late 1989’s dramatic dictate drawing curtains over the cinema halls in Kashmir.

The who’s who in the security apparatus including the top officials led by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha became the first watchers of Kashmir’s new ‘entertainment’ era.

Post-official screening, the multiplex created buzz in the city where popular hangouts like cinemas became shut shops during late 1980s.

“Not that we need this space for watching movies, but it will definitely become one of the go-to places in Srinagar now,” said Shakir Ali, a youngster who had turned up for the first show, Laal Singh Chaddha.

“We lack social and entertainment spaces in the valley and places like these make any urban center a happening place.”

Unlike the cine-goers elsewhere, the viewers of the first show in Kashmir were getting nostalgic about the halcyon days rather than reviewing the movie.

Drawing parallels between the 1990s and 2020s, a fifty-something trader turning up for the first show, said the new entertainment house will revive the late-night culture in the city.

“I remember growing up in a different time when we used to return home at midnight,” said trader Shafi Dar while coming out of the hall.

“Back then, cinemas would create a huge entertainment drive in the valley. But now, we live in different times where twilight signals the end of the day. I believe this new hangout is going to revive the culture we once cherished.”

But in the ‘free-streaming’ times, many said that places like multiplexes have become more important as leisure spots than mere movie houses.

“Most of us are watching OTT platforms on our smart phones and TV sets these days, but this place has its own recreational value for the society,” said Naseer Baba, a contractor from Pulwama.
“We Kashmiris otherwise visit Multiplexes outside Kashmir to watch new movies with our family and friends. But now, this place with three screens and 500 odd seats will save our time and resources.”

Before the advent of this new-age show, the nine city cinemas—Khayam, Shiraz, Naaz, Palladium, Regal, Broadway, Firdous, Shah etc—were big business houses in Kashmir.

People used to fall in long lines to get tickets, some even getting it in black. Bollywood had a huge fan following in Kashmir and was the fashion trend setter here.

But all this changed when a militant outfit ‘Allah Tigers’ announced a ban on cinemas on August 18, 1989.

The motive behind the ban was to create an atmosphere for a full-fledged anti-establishment upheaval in Kashmir. However, despite the ban, cinemas functioned until death threats to owners stalled the popular public hangouts on December 31, 1989.

Later, Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s government tried to revive the culture during the late 90s by reopening Regal, Neelam and Broadway.

However, on the very first day of the screening in 1999, a grenade exploded outside Regal cinema leaving one dead and twelve injured.

Among the three renewed cinemas, only Neelam kept the culture alive by screening Bollywood and Pakistani movies. The show lasted till the 2005 fall, when fidayeen stormed the hall screening Amir Khan’s Mangal Pandey.

In the face of these threats, the cinemas could never return to their halcyon days in Kashmir.

“But this is Naya Kashmir, where multiplexes will multiply and create a sense of normalcy for masses,” said Ovaise Khan, a BJP supporter outside the Multiplex. “This is just the beginning.”

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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