Cinema opens after 14 years in the city of Kashmir but few show up

SRINAGAR – A multi-screen cinema opened in the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday for the first time in 14 years to demonstrate normalcy in the disputed region that was brought under India’s direct rule three years ago.

Decades of deadly conflict, bombings and a brutal Indian counterinsurgency campaign have kept people out of the cinemas, and only a dozen or so viewers lined up for the first morning show, a Bollywood action film “Vikram Vedha”. The 520-seat, three-screen hall opened under tight security in Srinagar’s high-security zone, which is also home to India’s regional military headquarters.

“There are different perspectives on (cinema), but I think it’s a good thing,” said moviegoer Faheem, who gave just one name. “It’s a sign of progress.”

Others at the show declined to comment.

According to India’s leading film booking website, Saturday afternoon and evening shows were booked at less than 10%.

The multiplex was officially inaugurated on September 20 by Manoj Sinha, New Delhi’s chief administrator in Kashmir. The cinema is part of the Indian multiplex chain Inox in partnership with a Kashmiri businessman.

After Kashmiri militants rose against Indian rule in 1989 and launched a bloody uprising, which was brutally reciprocated by Indian troops, the once prosperous city of Srinagar fell into disrepair. The city’s eight privately owned cinemas closed on orders from rebels who said they were vehicles of India’s cultural invasion and anti-Islamic.

In the early 1990s, government forces converted most of the city’s theaters into makeshift security camps, detention centers, or interrogation centers. Soon places where audiences thronged to Bollywood blockbusters became dreaded buildings where witnesses say torture was commonplace.

However, three screens reopened in 1999, aided by government financial support, amid an official push to project the idea that life in Kashmiri had returned to normal. Soon after, a bomb attack outside a hall in the heart of Srinagar killed one civilian and wounded many others and closed it again. Weary Kashmiris mostly stayed away, and the other hall closed its doors within a year. A theater, the NelamShe held out until 2008.

Officials said the government plans to set up cinemas in all counties in the region, where tens of thousands have been killed in the armed conflict since 1989. Last month, Sinha also inaugurated two multipurpose halls in southern districts of Shopian and Pulwama, hotbeds of the armed rebellion.

“The government is striving to change perceptions of Jammu and Kashmir and we know people want entertainment and want to watch movies,” Sinha told reporters at the inauguration.

In 2019, India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy and brought it under direct control, placing Kashmir under a severe security and communications lockdown.

The region has been tense since then, as authorities also enacted a slew of new laws that critics and many residents fear could alter the region’s demographics.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Cinema opens after 14 years in the city of Kashmir but few show up

Sarah Y. Kim

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