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Srinagar talkies: Popcorn, tears in the dark

Humera Khalid writes: The experience of going to a movie hall was an all together surreal one -- waiting eagerly for our tickets, the best seats, the unmatchable aroma of popcorn that made us float through cinema's alleys.

Three decades after militancy had forced its cinema halls to shut down, the big screen has returned to Kashmir. (File)

Decades ago, life as I remember it, was easy, happy and stress-free. After the war with Pakistan, things had settled down and I got admission at Presentation Convent School in Srinagar. That is when the ever-so-famous musical, The Sound Of Music — a movie with evergreen classical songs set in the picturesque beauty of Salzburg, Austria, and with the sweetest-ever emotional backstory — was showing in the city’s Broadway Cinema. The nuns in the school took us to see the morning show. It was possibly one of the most exciting moments of my very simple childhood. We learnt the songs in the movie and practised them to perfection (or so we thought). On lazy afternoons, I would find my thoughts lingering off to the whole theatre experience, whilst continuously practising the notes of the songs.

The nuns at the school had a movie projector where, every once in a while, we would see some documentary or other educational films in the school hall. But the experience of going to a movie hall was an all together surreal one — waiting eagerly for our tickets, the best seats, the unmatchable aroma of popcorn that made us float through cinema’s alleys.

We watched Footprints on the Moon at Broadway Cinema, a movie about astronauts and the first landing on the moon. For children our age, this experience was nearly as good as landing on the moon itself.

Then came the famous Mughal-E-Azam in Srinagar’s Regal Cinema. It was a truly mesmerising experience, being a rather long, sad, tragic, musical love story. This one really had us by the storm. I even remember a few drops of tears rolling down the corner of my mother’s eyes. By this time, black and white television had slowly entered our lives and thus we watched many Hindi movies on Doordarshan. But in our hearts, we were always waiting for the next cinema experience.

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In Shiraz Cinema, which was near our aunt’s house, we went to watch a film based on the Hajj pilgrimage.

Occasionally, we would watch films like Chupke Chupke, Bobby, and other famous Hindi movies. And if we were in luck, we would get a glimpse of the stars — the actors and actresses — since they would frequent Kashmir for screenings and shooting, many of whom we even entertained in our homes. On a good day, we could shake hands and, on even better days, get an autograph or two from the stars.

Going to the movies was always planned and the only entertainment of our student lives. It was like a window into the outside world. While in college, Saturdays were always theatre days, followed by dollops of ice cream and coffee for some. We watched The Hidden Heart, a documentary based on the first heart transplant by surgeon Christian Bernard. It was again an unforgettable experience that made us skip a heart beat or two.

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To our regret, our children never experienced any of this magic in Kashmir. All they know of the movies is from what we narrate to them. Now, even as Kashmir prepares to screen movies — at the new, fancy top-of-the-line multiplex, with screens so big and HD-quality images that almost cure my cataract, my best memories will remain those from another era, when going to a movie theatre was a treat to us like no other. A joy, a journey where we travelled without moving an inch.

The writer lives in Srinagar and has sustained her passion for movies through OTT platforms

First published on: 25-09-2022 at 04:15:37 am
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