The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Movie magic lost on Kashmir

Srinagar, Oct. 1: Mallika Sherawat’s oomph doesn’t excite them; Aishwarya Rai’s beauty leaves them cold. Nothing seems able to draw the Kashmiri to the cinema ' or the theatre owners to keep the halls open.

Despite the government’s best efforts, it appears to be curtains for Bollywood in a region that once was its most popular locale for shoots.

When the authorities got the security forces to vacate Srinagar’s cinemas, shut down in the 1990s at the peak of militancy, they hoped the projectors would start whirring again to signal “the return of normality” to the Valley. It didn’t happen.

After a makeshift battalion headquarters was recently shifted from the Shah cinema in Srinagar’s Chattabal area, a baffled administration watched the owner prepare to convert the theatre into a charitable hospital.

In a city where more than a dozen theatres did roaring business before the outbreak of separatist violence, only one is showing movies now. But even the owners of Neelam cinema are shaken after a suicide militant attack near the hall last month.

The Shah management says the “slump in celluloid business” has made screening movies “both dangerous and unprofitable in the Valley”. “We have already made arrangements to open a hospital there,” said owner Nazir Ahmad.

Khayam cinema, which did excellent business till 1990 with its 70mm screen and stereo sound system, is already functioning as a charitable heart care centre for the poorer families who cannot afford to travel outside Kashmir for treatment.

Abdul Rehman, 61, vividly remembers his days as gatekeeper of a local cinema when theatres used to draw large crowds of the young and old.

“I would hold a torch and show the seats to the audiences and also stop them from smoking inside. We had to work very hard. Now it’s a long forgotten dream,” he said.

The separatists, with their diktat against obscenity and vulgar display of the female form, had spelt doom for the movie business a decade-and-a-half ago. Most of the halls were later occupied by the security forces, who converted them into makeshift battalion headquarters.

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