Theoretically, of course, conflict is at the heart of all forms of narrative storytelling — it is through oppositions and crises that a plot moves forward. But cinema has, historically, had a special relationship with war and strife. It has been a source of solace to those that have suffered, and the movie theatre has been a place to relive and forget the horrors of conflict, even during the two world wars. In 2019, Srinagar is finally set to get its first multiplex. That the people of the Valley have not had, for the most part, access to the theatre in about two decades in a country where cinema is perhaps second only to cricket as a form of mass entertainment speaks volumes.
Things were not always so bleak. Till the late 1980s, Srinagar boasted of about a dozen cinema halls spread out across the city. But as the conflict in the state turned violent, most of them were forced to shut shop after the militants began issuing diktats against the theatres. When some halls did reopen their doors in 1999, militants attacked the Regal Cinema with grenades. Presently, most of the halls in the state have been requisitioned by security forces.
The plight of cinema in Kashmir has not been limited to just the lack of big screens. One of the most common locations, especially for romantic Hindi films, saw a dwindling number of productions taking place in the state through the 1990s till recently. In the last few years, Bollywood has begun returning to Kashmir. While there have been political films like Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, mainstream blockbusters like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani have also been shot in the Valley. The irony, of course, was that the people of Kashmir couldn’t see their surroundings on the big screen while the rest of India marvelled at the region’s natural beauty. Of all the conflicts in the state, that’s the easiest one to resolve.