Nearly three decades after almost all cinema halls closed down in Srinagar, a two-storeyed multiplex (within a five-storey commercial complex) received the go-ahead to screen films this month and is likely to start operations by next March.
Speaking to The Hindu, Vijay Dhar of the Taksal group and the owner of the now defunct Broadway cinema hall, said his company had got the NOC for running a multiplex theatre, and it was an attempt to address the youth of the Valley. “Former Governor Satya Pal Malik had told me that there should be cinemas and entertainment centres for the youth in Srinagar and there was an acute lack of these facilities. It started from there,” he said. The multiplex is to come up at Sonwar on land owned by Mr. Vijay Dhar and his sons, Vikas and Vishal Dhar.
Mr. Vijay Dhar is a resident of Srinagar, the son of the legendary D.P. Dhar considered one of the chief architects of the India’s intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh, and runs the Delhi Public School in the city. His family owned Broadway that, along with many other cinemas in the city shut down after threats from terrorists. According to reports, it opened briefly in the mid-1990s but shut down again soon. Security issues are still important as security forces have been mounting one operation after another to close in terror groups.
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“It is an issue, but more for the government to think about,” said Mr. Vijay Dhar. “I feel that since the 1990s we haven’t done anything to address the youth of Jammu and Kashmir. There is a major change in terms of what they are exposed to in the world and what other young people have access to, we must consider that. A short time ago, at DPS we had held a music festival, Shireen, inviting 180 schools, the finale was attended by 9,000 people, in a city like Srinagar. So there is definitely a desire for music, cinema, the arts and sports,” he said.
Camps for troops
Many cinema halls in the 1990s had been converted to camps for the paramilitary troops and continue to be so till now. One of the few holdouts was Neelam cinema, a single screen theatre that ran films sporadically till the early 2000s. Speaking to The Hindu, Altaf Ahmad, partner in the company that owns Neelam cinema, said that his family had tried to run the cinema again in 1999, “but it ran only for 1-1.5 years”, and that they shut it down soon after. On the prospects of the multiplex, Mr. Ahmad said that prospects of a cinema working again in Srinagar faced the same challenges that theatres did across the world, which was the rise of the streaming channels and OTT platforms, he added however, “there will be a novelty value to the big screen in Srinagar again, so let’s see.”
Security threats and insurgency put paid to cinema theatres in a city which was the site of many film shoots and a cinema loving public. A polity still grappling with the implications of the dilution of Article 370 and 35A, the return of the cinema hall is a piquant development.