The lights go off, the projector whirls and a strong beam of light formed images on a silver screen, there was a standing ovation from the school children who were eagerly waiting for the show to start as it was their first experience to watch a movie on a bigger screen in Kashmir owing to closure of cinema halls for last 28 years. These siblings were from Kashmir Havard Educational Institute who got an opportunity to visit the Tagore Hall on the banks of Jehlum where the Hindi film “Chhoo Lenge Akash” was being screened on the 4th day of the Kashmir World Film Festival held from November 1 to 5. The 82 minutes fiction was highly inspiring, encouraging and thoughtful wherein Sonu, a hardworking student, is a leader among her circle of friends despite being specially abled. The movie has a message that girls are not lagging behind in any sphere of life. There was an occasional clapping and whistling from the jam-packed audience during screening of a move. The younger generation who never know about cinema industry of Kashmir sought screening of such films persistently for entertainment and motivation. The screening was a remainder of happier times when cinema lovers in valley used to watch movies freely in cinemas.
Kashmir witnessed shut down of all 19 cinema halls including 9 in Srinagar after militant outfits banned popular entertainment, including cinema and music, during inception of militancy in 1989 with the reason of being ‘un-Islamic’ practice. These outfits have attacked some cinema houses and burned down few others in a move to create fear among people besides forced owners to wind up their entertainment industry. The cinema houses in Srinagar city which ceased screening of films were Palladium, Neelam, Broadway, Regal, Naaz, Firdous, Shah, Khayam and Sheeraz. The closure of cinema halls back-to-back not only rendered hundreds of people jobless but also upset thousands of cinema lovers. However, in the late nineties, Broadway and Neelam made an attempt to screen few films but could not sustain it for a long time after militants hurled a grenade on one of the cinema halls. The continuous shutting of cinema industry in valley finally compelled owners to change their business from entertainment to other sectors. Presently, some of the cinema houses in Srinagar are in abandoned condition and some others are functioning for different business activities like hotels and hospitals.
The five day film carnival at Tagore hall attracted large number of film lovers and media students including young boys and girls who were seen mush enthusiastic to watch screening of some world class films in different languages. The lot of people who came out of the theatre after watching movies shared fond memories of the cinemas in valley where they grew up. They wanted reopening of the cinema halls in Srinagar city to restore film culture in valley. “I remember when I and my friends in college were making weekend plans for watching moves in different cinemas. And, I will never forget about the day when I watched Amitabh Bachchan’s Mukaddar Ka Sikandar at Broadway in 1986. But, unfortunately everything has changed in valley after 1990s and our younger generation missed to enjoy taste of watching movies in cinemas,” said 52 years old Showkat Ahamad. Another person without naming said that he has enjoyed few hours of freedom today inside the dark room after lengthy period of silence of big screen and loud sound. A young girl Samia said, “I saw for the first time picture on a big screen and it was a wonderful experience. I do not think that watching a movie in a cinema is wrong and rather it has some different feeling.” Some couples were also seen enjoying movies in the theatre. Indeed, the screening of films in the KWFF brought cheers on the faces of valley film lovers.
About twenty films were screened during the festival.
Besides the film screenings, the workshop for the media students and film lovers was also conducted in which renowned bollywood filmmakers like Arun Raje Patil, Rajat Kapoor, Imam Siddique, Govind Nahlani, Anwar Jamwal, Saeed Mirza, Satish Koul and Sarvdeep Singh Munna interacted with the students and educated them about technical skills of cinematography. Also, they taught students on the subjects of script writing, production, film making, film editing and film direction. The students were looking much satisfied by their participation in the workshop with the reason that it was not possible for them to obtain knowledge on film related subject from noted bollywood filmmakers in case they missed an opportunity to attend the workshop.
The students who participated in the workshop were from Degree colleges of Baramulla, Anantnag, Bemina, women college Srinagar besides Central University of Kashmir and Islamic University of Science and Technology. I talked to some students and one of the filmmakers during the festival tried to know their perspective on lost culture of watching movies in valley cinemas. A student from Journalism & Mass communication Department of IUST, Pampore , Nayeem Khan said that, “my classmates are very happy in choosing cinematography as a career and also as a subject .We desire to produce and direct films particularly in local languages.” “I cannot say anything about reopening of cinemas in valley as I know it will not work due to so many reasons. But, I suggest that people associated with this trade in 1990s must think over it,” he added. Another student of mass media Idress Ahmad maintained that,” younger generation in valley has a passion for watching bollywood movies but unfortunately they could not accomplish the wish due to closure of cinema halls. Therefore, I want cinemas must reopen in valley for both entertainment and job avenues. When we have others means of mass media available here, then why not cinema?”
The director, cinematographer and trainer from bollywood Sarvdeep Singh said. “I do not understand why cinemas in valley are closed without any reason. When we have smart phones, TV, internet facilities available here from which we can also watch movies. Then, what is the fun of closing cinemas. It is not bad to go cinema and watch a movie. Every movie has a message and learning and also few other advantages.” “There is no entertainment activity in Kashmir which is very upsetting. Every person after hard day’s work wants few hours of freedom and for that purpose there will be no better choice than to go cinema,” he added.
In order to restore film culture in valley, the government has assured that it will take steps for reopening of cinema houses across Kashmir and sought cooperation from all sections of society to make this possible. The government is of the view that when there were cinema halls in Pakistan and Saudia Arabia is opening in Riyad, then what is wrong to reopen this popular entertainment in Kashmir as well. The former Chief Ministers Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed also made efforts in this connection but could not succeed to fill seats of the abandoned cinema house across valley. The Actors Creative Group, a non-profit organisation is making repeated attempts in this connection and with the result organised its second edition of Kashmir World Film Festival within a period of six months. The organisers of festival said that they received lot of love and appreciation from people for organising this significant event. Further, they believed that children, young and old were missing this entertainment for a long time and now it is right time to place things back on the track.