WITH MULTIPLEX CINEMA FLOURISHING IN JAMMU, SHOULD THERE BE A REVIVAL OF CINEMA CULTURE IN KASHMIR

It’s a well-known reality that India is rich in tradition of cinema art, same has been shaping people’s lives, sensitivities and emotions. In today’s globalization era, exchange of culture is happening at lightning speed. Technology, culture, ethical views are changing in a second, rather than days. The first Kashmiri film “Mainz Raat”, was released in 1964. In 1972 “Shayar-e-Kashmir Mahjoor”, a biography of Kashmiri poet Mahjoor was released. “Babaji” directed by JyotiSarup followed 39 years, but never saw its dawn in theatres. “Inqalaab” a film made in 1989, was never released due to the bad political situation at that time. Film production in Kashmir came to a halt owing to 1989 insurgency; an unofficial ban was imposed on Bollywood films. Kashmir doesn’t have cinema hall, it was long shut in 1989. “Allah Tiger” then militant organization banned cinema halls and consumption / distribution of alcohol across the valley. The organization threatened to turn cinema halls into ashes and ransack the liquor shops. There were 8 single screens then in the Srinagar.

Hurriyat leaders opposed the idea of restarting of cinema halls in the valley, stating that it will picture return of normalcy in the troubled valley. Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani has always opposed the thought of reopening of cinema halls stating that it is against the norms of Islam and cinema promote bad culture which is prohibited in Islam. The Saudi crown prince’s decision to open theatres in the Islamic kingdom as a social reform has united PDP and the NC over reopening of cinema in valley. Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani opposed the decision of Saudi Arabia, terming it unislamic move and against the norms of Islam. He said “rulers in Saudi Arabia, being the custodian of holy places like Mecca and Medina, need to take care.”

Kashmir being demographically Muslim, views of Islam towards cinema culture plays a major role in the growth of  cinema in valley. Quran is the holy book which lays down the procedure that are to be followed by the “Muslims” vis-à-vis followers of Islam. Quran was written in a century when there was no source of electronic entertainment, hence no mention of cinema in it. Islam gives way to differentiate between halal and haram.Watching movies are not forbidden (Haram) in Islam if they don’t contain any prohibited acts. Muslims can watch, enjoy and learn from movies that have no indecencies and no harm to society. In 1999 the Farooq Abdullah led government in the state, tried to bring back cinema in the valley and gave Rs 40,000 as financial assistance to theatre owners to renovate and reopen. But during the inauguration of Regal cinema, militants carried an grenade attack killing one individual and injuring 12 others, thereafter the valley never heard the music of cinema. Later on, 2 cinema halls namely Neelam and Broadway was open amidst tight security but it failed to attract audience owing to chances of terror attack. As a result Neelam has to shut down, Broadway faced the same fate later in 2010.

Most of the cinema halls have been either converted into malls, security camps and hospitals. Cinema employees have come on ground, none of the successive government was able to bring justice to them. Khayam cinema has been converted into a hospital, Regal cinema has been demolished and a mall is being raised their. Palladium is in deserted, Sheeraz houses converted to security camp, Broadway, Shah, Firdous, Neelam and Naaz are shut.  Kashmir is only place in India where film festival is being organized regularly despite the fact that state itself doesn’t hold a single running cinema hall. In 2017, nearly 25 local, national and international films were screened in the second edition of the Kashmir World Film Festival (KWFF) in Srinagar. In June 2020, it was reported that three storey multiples will start by March 2021, which will be laid in Badami Bagh cantonment area of Srinagar.This dream shattered as the permission to construct a cinema hall in Srinagar’s cantonment has expired due to failure of the builder to build the theatre within the stipulated time. Adding on to efforts by government; on Aug 5 2021, Film Policy 2021 of the union territory of J&K was launched by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Singh.

Since 1990 Kashmir has seen exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, increase in insurgency, regular cease fire violation across LC, Battle of Kargil and toppling governance in state. There were many major issues to be dealt. Problem of cinema seemed very minute to be dealt on immediate basis. The insurgency reduced to manifold owing to presence of Indian Army and Sadhbhavana activity carried by the same in the border villages. Ceasefire violation reduced to a large extent due to well-planned foreign policies and defence strategies. Abrogation of article 370 in 2019 and switching of governance from state to central played a major role in accelerating infrastructure activities in the state. Present situation in valley has come to normal and its high time to focus on cinema to bring back Kashmiris who were lagging behind.

The Government of Jammu and Kashmir has taken efforts towards creation of a film ecosystem in the Union Territory of J&K. The Policy was approved by the Administrative Council led by the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on August 5, 2021 at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre and was launched among huge audience in the presence of Bollywood Actor Amir Khan and filmmaker Raj Kumar Hirani. The Policy sets the vision up till 2026. A number of efforts will be executed to create a conducive environment and promotion of film production in Jammu and Kashmir such as efforts to create competitive infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir, upgradation and renovation of existing infrastructure like cinema halls, administrative assistance to ease film making in Jammu and Kashmir by establishing a single window cell to grant permission for shooting films, preferably within 2 to 4 weeks, providing attractive schemes to give financial support in selective cases. Subsidy to 1st, 2nd, 3rd film by award winning producer and director. If local             artists are given opportunity, subsidy may hike till Rs 50 lacs. Promotion of NGO’s involved in publicity of cinemas, attracting capital investment through the film industry and displaying the virgin beauty of the valley to the outer world, which will reciprocate in the form of growth in tourism industry. These incentives are for period of 5 years, after that JKFDC will decide to continue the incentive or not. J&K government will support setting up of film studios, until a film city is not established.

A generation has been deprived of pleasure of watching film on big screen owing to absence of cinema culture. Cinema plays a major role in a individual’s life, be it shaping his culture or social norms. Cinema unites citizen of a country by cultivating nationalism in them. Fall of cinema halls have never stopped Kashmiri from watching movies of their choices. Earlier it used to be CD’s and DVDs, now its internet and OTT platform. Then what’s the need of theatre? Facilitating the culture of theatre will generate employment. It will strengthen the thought of normalcy in the valley and will attract the filmmakers to exploit the virgin beauty of Kashmir in their movies, which will boost the tourism industry consecutively. There are a number of reasons to support cinema such as a stress buster from our daily life. Cinema educates citizens about realities of society. It brings public attention and opinion against any lurking social injustice and   stigma. It brings facts in front of citizens and teaches moral values. It brings different cultures to us from the world around and helps in mending our cultural/ social loopholes.

India is a secular nation, same can be reiterated by its well laid constitution. Every citizen of this country has right to follow his or her religion, have right to express himself provided that it is not hurting someone’s religious or personal sentiments. In this fast-moving world, cinema has played a major role in shaping the future and global culture. Religion is meant for peace and harmony of humans, not for restricting the progress of the same; as being portrayed by some radical leaders. In a secular country like India, rule of land must prevail not religious propaganda.

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