IN a major boost to business in North Kashmir, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha recently inaugurated two 100-seater multipurpose cinema halls in Baramulla and Handwara towns.
After the abrogation of Article 370, the government has been trying to revive the culture of cinema in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. While the LG inaugurated cinema halls in Shopian and Pulwama last year, now, in Srinagar, a second private multiplex has been opened with a huge fanfare. In fact, in order to give people access to the big-screen experience, LG Sinha has promised to build a cinema hall in each district.
Let us recall that the insurgency of the 1990s saw mass closure and burning down of cinema halls in the Valley. The militants at that time had warned the owners and the public of visiting these places. Among the most popular cinema halls at that time were The Regina and The Thimaya (Baramulla) and The Samad Talkies and The Kapara Theatre (Sopore).
Thanks to open lawlessness, major cinema halls in the twin towns of Baramulla and Sopore were shut down and entertainment activities witnessed a huge blow. As militancy peaked, the priorities of the government too shifted from offering recreational activities to maintaining law and order.
After the might of militancy was crushed, the separatists led by the Hurriyat and its allies vehemently opposed the opening of cinema halls in the Valley.
But now, finally, thanks to technology and stress on recreational activities, cinema is seeing a boom in the Valley. Locals appreciate the opening of these theatres and the government has planned to open cinema houses in every major town of the ten districts of the Valley.
Ghulam Hassan, a resident of Sopore in his late 40s, shares his childhood memories of cinema halls: “During our childhood days, we used to save pennies from our school transport fare just to watch movies at the Kapara theatre later in the evening. I rarely missed a film featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty. Their films would witness huge crowds, especially the youth, who would have a whale of a time in those two-three hours. The law and order situation would be so good that we could return late midnight without any fear or threat”. Then, after a poignant pause, he adds: “Today, when I visit the Kapara cinema and see it in ruins, it gives me a heartache. After all, the place is filled with my childhood memories. This is the movie hall I would frequent with my friends and cousins. After the insurgency set in, the situation became such that even our personal television sets were destroyed by militants”.
Now, after three decades, the Baramulla town is witnessing rebirth of cinema. LG Sinha congratulated the residents of Handwara and Baramulla on this historic occasion.
LG Sinha feels that J&K’s expanding aspirations are reflected in its movie theatres. The new multipurpose cinema halls are part of a public-private partnership that aims to give the public recreational facilities, revive a thriving film culture, and give the younger generation a place to unwind at, have conversations in, and think through seminars. Both the locations will also boast a Cafe, virtual reality (VR) equipment, conference rooms, and youth seminar spaces.
Touseef Raina, former chairman, Municipal Council, Baramulla, speaking at the inauguration of the cinema hall, said: “There is a different delight in watching a movie at a theatre than at home. It is a welcome step and will also open avenues of employment for the people in Baramulla. We used to hear from our parents about the cinema halls in Kashmir. Now, we are hopeful that the present and the future generations will enjoy cinema in their respective neighborhoods rather than while visiting Jammu and other cities”.
At the occasion, LG Manoj Sinha reaffirmed the administration’s commitment towards working for the socio-economic development of people, ensuring that the underprivileged have priority access to public resources. “The vision of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas has transformed the lives of the less fortunate. We are working on a comprehensive and a scalable strategy to harness the incredible creative capacity of a huge number of people. The government wants to see the last person in the queue feel empowered, and I want to reassure these families that good future awaits you,” he promised.
The Valley has not been stranger to some secessionist elements who up their ante against the administration whenever it tries to revive cinema in Kashmir. They have a habit of taking to mass agitations against such endeavors, despite the fact that today, our homes have turned into mini cinema halls, what with access to cable TV network and DTH services. And the people of Kashmir have realized that cinema is not against the ethos, diversity and harmony of our Valley; rather it has the power to connect us with the world through entertainment. It can help us evolve into a more love, peace and success-oriented society and also has the power to pull the youth away from the clutches of drug abuse, towards a more hope-oriented mainstream.