The new generation in the Kashmir valley might soon see a cinema hall for the first time in their life as a multiplex is expected to start operating near the cantonment area about 30 years after the cinema theatres were burnt down by terrorists.

Governor Satya Pal Malik has given his nod for the project in Srinagar where about a dozen cinema halls were the first casualty of terrorism in 1989. Most cinema halls were either burnt down by terrorists or made to shut down as their diktat was against such entertainment which they called ‘un-Islamic’.

Efforts of the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to reopen the cinema halls failed as terrorists tossed grenades inside the halls during show time.

Terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists had also got the liquor shops shut in the valley.

The valley had 19 cinema halls in Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla, Sopore, Handwara and Kupwara but now these have turned into ruins or are being utilized for other commercial activity.

The iconic Palladium cinema in the heart of Srinagar’s Lal Chowk was burnt by terrorists and now the CRPF has set up its command post in its ruins. Those who can afford to travel 300 km to Jammu were taking the opportunity to watch movies on the broad screen in the multiplexes while others watch movies on the internet.

Successive governments have made futile attempts to reopen the cinema halls. The latest one was made two years ago when the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was running the government with support of BJP, quoting crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s decision to reopen movie theatres in the Islamic Republic of Saudi Arabia tweeted; “I welcome the decision by Saudi Arabia to lift a decade-long ban on cinemas as part of a series of social reforms by the crown prince. Introspection and self-reform are marks of a progressive society.

Mehbooba’s tweet was supported by various political parties, including certain leaders of the National Conference. However, the top separatist Syed Alishah Geelani did not relish the idea of reopening the cinema halls and issued a strong-worded statement against the decision of Saudi Arabia.

He expressed disappointment on allowing movie theatres in Saudi Arabia and said opening movie theatres is a un-Islamic move and against the “norms of Islam and particularly keeping in view the sanctity of these places, the move is quite disheartening and unacceptable”.

Geelani said that the rulers in Saudi Arabia, being the custodians of holy places like Madeena and Mecca, need to take care. It is quite unfortunate that the present ruling elite in Saudi Arabia is allowing and promoting the same obscene culture which Islam has prohibited.

During his tenure as Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah reopened three cinema halls in Srinagar in 1999 but terrorists exploded grenades and one person was killed and several people watching movies were injured as a result of which these were again shut.

Haseeb Drabu, who was sacked by Mehbooba from her ministry and is a founder member of PDP, in a tweet had said; “And look what has happened to the 7 movie theatres in Srinagar: Palladium is in ruins, Naaz is crumbling, Shiraz is a security bunker, so is Firdous, Regal is becoming a mall, Broadway is an office complex & Khayam is a hospital. Wonder how many youngsters know where these were!

In reaction to what Drabu said, a local Kashmiri tweeted; “The sheer Islamic fundamentalism in the region has Kashmir and its people in the doldrums.

A radical outfit Allah Tigers had issued a diktat for shutting cinema halls and liquor vends in Kashmir in 1989 and the call was supported by various terrorist outfits, including the JKLF.

However, the new generation of Kashmiris was using the new technology of the internet, DVD, USB drives and various other gadgets to watch movies of their choice on TV screens and laptops. But this was not the substitute for the big screen of the movie theatres which they have not seen so far.

In the absence of cinema, various government and other organizations have from time to time started organizing skits and drama festivals in Srinagar to provide a window on the rich traditional culture of the state. A film festival was also organized recently in Srinagar in which many movies produced by locals were also shown.

Noted filmmaker and director Mushtaq Ali Ahmad Khan strongly favoured reopening of cinema halls in Kashmir but with the rider of setting up a local censor board that could approve films for screening in the valley.

“Whatever is shown in other parts of the country cannot be shown in Kashmir. We have to take our socio-political and socio-cultural moorings into consideration,” he said.

Interestingly, top film stars have started coming to Kashmir again for the shooting of films and the valley might be in a position to restore its position of being the first choice of movie makers.