After an interval forced for over 30 years, Kashmir Valley is going back to the movies

ON MONDAY, Ghulam Nabi was hard at work, applying finishing touches to the tiles on the path outside. He was happy, too.

Nabi is one of the workers engaged in getting the Inox complex in shape for Srinagar’s first multiplex to screen its inaugural movie show. It will also mark the return of movies to a theatre in the Valley after over 30 years.

“I am excited for this to open. I will bring my children here,” Nabi said.

The project, with theatre chain Inox and a Srinagar-based family business joining hands, was over four years in the making and is set to be inaugurated on Tuesday. First up is Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, which was partly shot in Kashmir, followed on September 30 by Vikram Vedha, starring Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan, which will be the multiplex’s first premier.

Vijay Dhar heads the project and owns the land on which the complex has come up.

Bringing back people of the Valley to the movies has been the “dream” of Vijay Dhar, who heads the project and owns the land on which the complex has come up. On Monday, he took stock of the screens, expressing a sense of relief and excitement. “I am already thinking about my next project,” Dhar told The Indian Express.

Nearby, workers rushed to wrap up last-minute work at the ticket counter and the exterior of the complex that houses three screens. After the inaugural show, two of the three screens will start full-fledged shows from September 30 followed later by the third screen. “The staff of about 60 have been trained in-house by Inox. This includes cooking, cleaning, serving and ushering,” Dhar said.

The plan is to start with three shows a day — 9 am, 12 noon and 6 pm — with more in line depending on the response. “Cinema is in my blood. My family owned one of the oldest cinema halls in Kashmir — Broadway. We cherished it. So it was a dream to bring people back to cinemas in Kashmir,” Dhar said.

In 1990, before the militancy led to the shutting down of cinema halls in the city, Dhar recalls that the Sunny Deol-starrer ‘Yateem’ was the last movie to be screened at Broadway. “That was over 30 years ago, and I still remember that after the last show, as we announced that the theatre will be shut down, the staff said, ‘Ab hum yateem ho gaye’ (Now, we have become orphans),” he said.

Dhar hails from a prominent Kashmiri Pandit family that is engaged in a variety of businesses, including running the Delhi Public School in Srinagar.

Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha during inauguration of multipurpose cinema halls at Pulwama and Shopian. (PTI Photo)

Asked about the choice of ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ to launch the multiplex project, Dhar said, “We were hoping to be ready by the release of the film, but we weren’t able to. Also, the film was partly shot at the school run by my family. And Aamir is a very good friend.”

For now, tickets will be available at the counter. According to Dhar, Inox will make online ticketing services available soon. “The three screens together have a capacity of 520. A play area for children will also be set up,” he said.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Inox CEO Alok Tandon, who is in Srinagar for the inauguration, said, “We are excited about opening a cinema in Srinagar. With this, we are now operating 705 screens in 20 states… It’s a brand new multiplex and Inox will be a part of it. We are bringing back entertainment to the people of Kashmir after 32 years.”

Tandon also said that Srinagar will now see movie releases “on the same date and time as the rest of the country”.

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In the 1980s, Srinagar city had at least eight functioning theatres, most of which were later turned into camps to house security forces. In 2021, the J&K administration incentivised the shooting of films in the Valley by bringing in a policy but commercial films could not be screened due to the lack of theatres.

This time, a mobile police bunker is in place outside the complex. And, although security remains a concern, Dhar said, “My focus is to bring entertainment back into our lives here. This venture is primarily dedicated to the young people here… This project, for me, is one of the heart and not the mind.”

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