In the center of Srinagar city,a green walled building of Palladium cinema,with a collapsed roof stands withdrawn from the ambience of the lively city around. This building,which once was the favorite spot for valleys film lovers,today is a testimony of what the cinema industry has gone through in Kashmir.
When the separatist insurgency erupted in the early nineties,Srinagar was teeming with cinemas in different localities of the city. The militants,many of whom were driven by Islamic fundamentalism,soon imposed a ban on the cinema,which forced their closure. Today,in the valley,there is only one cinema that has been re-opened for the audiences,some have been converted into shopping centers,while many remain turned into military camps.
Militants came and they told us to close the cinema, recalls Mohammad Ayub,the operator at the Neelam cinema. Neelam,which is situated less than three kilometers from the Palladium,and lies a few blocks away from the Civil Secretariat,was closed on January 1,1990,after militants labeled them as un-Islamic. Then situation was different. One was not sure who is militant and who is not,he said.
Ayub joined Neelam in 1981,then a teenager he worked as an assistant to the operator. Those days we would have house full. When a new film was shown,there were long lines of people to buy the ticket, Ayub recalled. Neelam cinema was opened in 1966 and the first film screened there was Dilip Kumar starrer Dil Diya Dard Liya.
After militancy ebbed in the late nineties,this cinema was re-opened in 1999,but the changed ground realities and the piracy have failed it to draw crowds. The Neelam is now guarded by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel,which Ayub says is a major hurdle in attracting audiences. Its 400 seat capacity hall,now manages to attract only a dozen odd people. People are afraid to come, said Ayub. CRPF is here,and sometimes they even check the shoes of the people who want to come here,he said.
Ayub also terms the twenty years of break in the cinema culture as a reason for not attracting crowds and acknowledges that visiting cinema is now treated as socially unacceptable. People have developed a hate for cinema halls now,even if they watch all the films at home. When someone comes here,he is cautious that nobody sees him,Ayub said.
Other reasons,Ayub charts out,are the piracy and cable television. Why would anyone come to cinema when he sees all for free on cable, he said. The cable operators download films from the internet and people watch them.
The history of cinema in Kashmir has witnessed controversy even before the eruption of militancy here. During the early eighties,when Anthony Quinn starrer Lion of the Desert was screened at the Regal cinema. The film was based on the life of the Libyan revolutionary Omar Mukhtar and had led to the protests in the city. The screening of the film was later banned in the valley.
However,Shiraz cinema,which is situated some five kilometers from the city centre,continues to be a CRPF camp,and so that does the Firdous cinema and the Shah cinema. Shiraz and Firdous are located in the downtown locality of the city,and Shah is located on the other end of the Srinagar. Broadway cinema,which is located in the uptown locality,has transformed into a shopping centre and now houses the head office of a major mobile company.
These cinemas in Kashmir have now become a landmark for the people,and most of the localities around these cinemas are named after them. The locality around Shiraz cinema is called Shiraz chowk and so is the road adjacent to the Palladium cinema called Palladium Lane. Very few among the new generation of Kashmir now know that behind these ruins of Palladium,life used to sing and dance.