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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR


The lobby of the new multiplex cinema ahead of afternoon screenings in Srinagar on October 1.

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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

The lobby of the new multiplex cinema ahead of afternoon screenings in Srinagar on October 1.

Showkat Nanda for NPR

SRINAGAR, India – Huge movie posters showing brawny Indian action stars adorn the new Myoun INOX Cinema multiplex in southern Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s largest city.

Inside the four-story building, young Kashmiri grab buckets of popcorn before sitting down to watch Vikram Vedaa new cop vs gangster action movie in hindi language.

The big budget film is a hit across India. But in Indian-administered Kashmir, October 1 marked the first time a film was shown in a cinema in 22 years. And on opening day, only a few dozen moviegoers showed up.

Among them is Ummi Kulsoom Gulzar, 32, whose uncle used to take her to the movies in the city when she was a child.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

people are watching Vikram Veda at Myoun INOX cinema in Srinagar on October 1st.

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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

people are watching Vikram Veda at Myoun INOX cinema in Srinagar on October 1st.

Showkat Nanda for NPR

“I brought my 5-year-old niece today,” she said with a smile. “To carry on the legacy.”

But there is nothing ordinary about going to the cinema in Indian-administered Kashmir. Just to reach the cineplex, people have to pass through a police checkpoint manned by heavily armed officers. Then they are then searched at the entrance to the theater in search of bombs and weapons. Only those who have purchased tickets online in advance are allowed entry.

Although Kashmir – famous for its idyllic landscapes, snow-capped peaks and lakes – has been a popular setting for Bollywood films, cinemas here have been on the frontlines of an insurgency that has inflicted suffering on this Himalayan region for decades.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Students from the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar talk to a security guard while waiting to enter the newly opened multiplex in Srinagar on October 1.

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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Students from the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar talk to a security guard while waiting to enter the newly opened multiplex in Srinagar on October 1.

Showkat Nanda for NPR

Now, after decades of unrest, the Indian government claims to have restored calm to Kashmir. Supporters say the reopening of cinemas – three so far, with seven planned in total – is one way to show it. But critics of the government dismiss the move as a mere propaganda stunt.

The region has a long and troubled past. Since India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947, they have fought three wars in Kashmir. India currently controls about two-thirds of the region; Pakistan, the rest. The nuclear-armed neighbors are still at odds over its borders.

Over the past three decades, an armed insurgency has claimed tens of thousands of lives as it battles Indian domination. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of supporting separatist militants – a charge Islamabad denies. Some of the separatists want an independent territory; others want to be part of Pakistan.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Indian government forces clash with Kashmiri protesters after Eid prayers in Srinagar June 26, 2017. The region has seen decades of violence since an armed insurgency began battling the Indian regime.

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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Indian government forces clash with Kashmiri protesters after Eid prayers in Srinagar June 26, 2017. The region has seen decades of violence since an armed insurgency began battling the Indian regime.

Tauseef Mustafa/AFP via Getty Images

Vijay Dhar, 81, co-owner of the new Srinigar multiplex, has lived through years of violence. His family has owned movie theaters there since the 1960s.

But in 1989 militants declared all cinemas un-Islamic, ordered them to close – and attacked those that remained open.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Vijay Dhar, co-owner of the Myoun INOX multiplex, in his office in Srinagar on October 1. Dhar’s family has owned movie theaters since the 1960s.

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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Vijay Dhar, co-owner of the Myoun INOX multiplex, in his office in Srinagar on October 1. Dhar’s family has owned movie theaters since the 1960s.

Showkat Nanda for NPR

“We had the bomb blast in the theatre,” he says of one of his family properties. “They burned it.”

In 1999, his family reopened this theater but then had to close it due to lack of audience.

In Kashmir there were about 15 cinemas – all of them were forced to close. Some of them have become shopping centers; others have become hospitals. Many are still piles of bricks – blown away by militants.

For 70 years, until 2019, Indian-administered Kashmir had a special status. A clause in India’s constitution gave autonomy to the region. But in 2019, the Indian government ended this autonomy. He flooded the area with more troops than ever before and shut down the internet.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Regal Cinema, the oldest cinema in Kashmir, in Srinagar on September 30. The theater closed in 1990. A shopping center should be built in its place.

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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Regal Cinema, the oldest cinema in Kashmir, in Srinagar on September 30. The theater closed in 1990. A shopping center should be built in its place.

Showkat Nanda for NPR

Now, three years later, the troops are still there. The mood in Srinagar remains tense and many residents – who do not want to be named for fear of government reprisals – say things are far from normal.

Documentary maker Sanjay Kak, whose 2007 film examined militancy and state repression in Kashmir, says civil society has been crushed and the opening of the new cineplex is an effort by New Delhi to show the world that everything is normal in Kashmir.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

An Indian paramilitary soldier checks a man’s bag during a random search on a street in Srinagar on Tuesday.

Tauseef Mustafa/AFP via Getty Images


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Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

An Indian paramilitary soldier checks a man’s bag during a random search on a street in Srinagar on Tuesday.

Tauseef Mustafa/AFP via Getty Images

The government has helped cinema owners reopen, issuing permits and providing them with security. The multiplex was inaugurated by the administrative head of Jammu and Kashmir.

“There’s something a little weird about all of this attention being focused on a commercial multiplex in a place torn apart by violence,” Kak says.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Cinephiles in the hall of the Myoun INOX cinema on October 1st.

Showkat Nanda for NPR


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Showkat Nanda for NPR

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

Cinephiles in the hall of the Myoun INOX cinema on October 1st.

Showkat Nanda for NPR

Srinagar’s main mosque, the Jamia Masjid, had been closed for more than a year, Kak said. In such a situation, with restrictions in a Muslim-majority region on praying in a mosque, he says, cinema “cannot be considered to have any significance in the lives of people in Srinagar or Kashmir in general.

One of the biggest challenges owners face will be attracting the public to keep business going. The new cineplex plans to show three movies a week in its three theaters. Across India, cinemas are facing fierce competition from home viewing, especially since the onset of the pandemic.

“I am [a] movie buff and this business is something I do from the heart,” says Dhar. “If it works, it works.

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

The Myoun INOX Cinema on October 1st.

Showkat Nanda for NPR


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Showkat Nanda for NPR

Cinemas have reopened in Kashmir after 2 decades – but few moviegoers show up: NPR

The Myoun INOX Cinema on October 1st.

Showkat Nanda for NPR


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