Ground Report | New Delhi: Bollywood theater in Kashmir; They say that cinema is the mirror of society, but how to portray the ever-changing societal surrounding when cinema halls have been turned into bunkers and theatres into military checkposts in the name of safety and security of the nation. Kashmir, plagued by militancy since the late 80s and its violent eruption in the early 90s has seen a complete shutdown of, a once very flourishing medium of entertainment, cinema.
Ironically, many Bollywood blockbusters have been shot in Kashmir and received global admiration over the years, but the people of Kashmir are yet to see them on the 70 mm in the comfort of their localities and cities.
Covered with barbed wire and hanging empty liquor bottles, some cinema halls in Srinagar are today paramilitary hideouts. However, it was an armed group that had earlier demanded the closure of cinemas and cinemas in Kashmir. According to journalist Iftikar Khan, a group named Allah Tigers was the first to issue press releases in local newspapers. Kashmiri youth, especially those born in the 1980s and onwards, never saw a movie in a cinema hall, except for those traveling to Jammu or other parts of the country. Despite this virtual ban on movies, the reality is completely different, Kashmiris love Bollywood movies and enjoy them on satellite television and the occasional piracy.
“Kashmir is one of the few places in the world that does not have a film industry of its own,” Danish Ahmed, a Kashmiri film student at the Center for Research in Art of Film and Television in New Delhi, told Ground Report. Filmmakers in Kashmir say the dismal state of culture and art, which includes films, is the result of the violence that has raged in the Valley for nearly two decades. Filmmaker Sanjay Kak told Ground Report, “I think the absence of the film industry has to be seen in the context of the wider cultural space in Kashmir, which has now been destroyed by nearly 20 years of conflict.”
Kak said Kashmir’s old traditions of music and theater are fading away while new ones have not been given room to grow. “But this is hardly surprising because a new culture cannot develop in a deeply militarized region of Kashmir,” he says. (Bollywood theater in Kashmir)
Violence has ravaged Kashmir since 1989 when insurgents began fighting for ‘freedom from India’. Thousands are estimated to have died since the rebellion began. Ahmed said, “During the struggle of 20 years, we have suffered a lot which we want to show through films, but we cannot do that.”
Unlike other states of India, where regional cinema flourishes, Jammu and Kashmir have never had a film industry. Less effort in filmmaking has resulted in films about the political history and social issues of Kashmir. The first Kashmiri film “Manzirat” (Henna Ceremony) was released in 1964 and screened in a theater in the main city of Kashmir. It was well-received by the general public and even won the President’s Award for Best Regional Film in Kashmir.
After Manzirat, there was “Shair-e-Kashmir Mahjoor” (Poet of Kashmir Mahjoor), a joint venture of Kashmir Information Department and Bollywood filmmakers, which was shot in both Urdu and Kashmiri languages. Film production in Kashmir has come to a standstill since the release of Mahjoor some 45 years ago. No feature film has been made since then, except for the 2001 film “Bub” (Father), directed by Jyoti Sarup, which won a National Film Award. The bub, however, was shown only in cinemas in Jammu, never in Kashmir.
The beginning of the insurgency in 1989 put a further back on the production of Kashmiri films. Even cinema houses were closed. A feature film called “Inquilab” (Revolution) was produced in 1989, but could not be released due to the turbulent situation.
Meanwhile, several TV mini-series filled the void created by the absence of theatres. The most popular of them were “Rasool Mir” (1974–1975), “Habba Khatoon” (1977–1978), and “Arnimal” (1982–1983). All three were profiles of ancient poets of Kashmir. The first digital Kashmiri feature film was released in late 2006. Titled “Akh Dalil Lulech” (A Love Story), the film revolves around the social and political struggle of the people of Kashmir in the 19th century, focusing on a true love story. , The film was directed by Arshad Mushtaq and premiered in New Delhi. (Bollywood theater in Kashmir)
Director Mushtaq sees the lack of government support for the local film industry as a deliberate attempt by India to ‘control Kashmir’. Local language films popularize the local language and culture, which creates a feeling of being a separate caste, he said, and thus questions the “acquisition of India”.
Not only the film industry but also film and media schools are missing in Kashmir. There are no schools that provide training for filmmaking, acting or theatre. “Institutions like cinema and theater are the center from where questions are raised, and if questions are raised in Kashmir, India is always in a stagnant and slippery position. So there are no liberal arts and cinema or theater schools for Kashmir, it is a matter of national policy of India,” Mushtaq said.
A local artist, on conditions of anonymity, said that conservative Kashmiri society does not understand the value of intellectuals and artists, thus restricting the start of media schools. “Kashmiris let down the filmmakers and the likes. Here parents want their children to become doctors and engineers so that they can earn good money, and so do they raise their children. Innate talent has no value.”
The state of Jammu and Kashmir does not have its own Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and comes under the purview of the central government. All cultural and other media-related activities are pursued under the state’s cultural ministry largely through the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL).
While militancy had driven away Bollywood and tourists from Kashmir, in the past decade film crews have returned as have visitors in large numbers. While films like Haider and Bajrangi Bhaijan shot in Kashmir has received national viewership there are others like Ye Jawani Hai Deewani who portrayed Kashmir as Manali when the film was released.
While Bollywood is once again turning to Kashmir for its natural beauty and snow-clad mountains, its important that the state sustains this new arrival, and the valley which has seen over two decades of bloodshed and violence once again reverberates in the music and larger than life narrative of cinema.