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‘Film tourism’: Of defunct cinema halls and a newfound love for multiplexes

cinema


Last week, Jammu and Kashmir government notified the Film Policy 2020. The sub-text of the policy is to reopen cinema halls and set up multiplexes.

 Strife-torn Kashmir doesn’t have any movie hall. `Allah Tigers’, now a defunct militant outfit, had banned the cinema halls and sale and consumption of liquor in 1989. Led by `Air Marshal’ Noor Khan, the outfit had ransacked few liquor shops and threatened to torch cinema halls prompting them to shut instantly.

 

There were eight single-screen theatres in Srinagar. Of which four were in the sensitive old city.  In 1999, the then Farooq Abdullah led government tried to reopen Regal cinema in Srinagar. But on the inaugural show, militants attacked the cinema with grenades killing one person and injuring 12 others. The cinema never reopened for the public again.

Later two cinema halls –Neelam and Broadway—tried to reopen amid tight security but they were unable to attract the cine-goers owing to security reasons. As a result, Broadway closed some months later. Neelam Cinema crutched along but finally had to close down in 2010.  Cine goers had a narrow escape when militants attacked Neelam on September 7, 2005. Two militants and a policeman were killed in the attack.

Much water has flown down the Jhelum. Most of the cinema theaters have either been shut or converted into security camps, hospitals or malls. Famous Khayam cinema has been converted into a hospital. Regal Cinema has been demolished and a mall is coming up at its place. Palladium is in ruins. Sheeraz houses the security force camp. Broadway, Shah, Firdous, Neelam and Naaz are shut.

Most of the employees were left to fend for themselves after the cinemas were shut in January 1990. Some of the employees were living in penury. Some started selling merchandise on footpaths and some became daily wagers, food vendors, and drivers. The successive governments failed these employees.

Kashmir is perhaps the only place in the country where film festivals are being held regularly despite not having a single cinema hall. In 2015, the fifth edition of the International Film Festival of Kashmir (IFFK) kicked off to the packed house. Organized by the Experimental Moving Images and Theatre Association (XMITA), 40 films were showcased in the three-day festival. Iranian short-fiction Waskat and Gilgit-Baltistan short fiction `Stunning’ were screened on the opening day of the festival.

In 2017, nearly 25 local, national and international films were showcased in the second edition of the Kashmir World Film Festival (KWFF) in Srinagar. 

Under the Film policy, the government has decided to encourage and incentivize the owners to re-open closed cinema halls in the valley. All the incentives to such units shall be governed under the provisions of J&K Industrial Policy 2021,” reads the policy document.

 “For promoting film viewing in the cinema halls, it is important to modernize and upgrade the facilities and technologies available in the existing cinema halls. The government of J&K shall encourage the owners of the Cinema Halls to create modern amenities by way of various incentives. All the incentives to such Units shall be governed under the provisions of J&K Industrial Policy 2021,” the policy said.

Moreover, incentives are also being offered for setting up Multiplexes and new cinema halls in the UT.  

“In the present times, television and other means of entertainment are vying with films to grab the attention of viewers. This has resulted in a sharp fall in the number of filmgoers which has forced the closure of the cinema halls, and many existing cinema halls are on the verge of closure. To bring back the public into the cinema halls, it is imperative to have high-grade facilities in film screening hall,” it said.

 Last year, reports surfaced that a multiplex is being set up in Kashmir. However, the project did not take off after the owner accused the authorities of creating hurdles.  Pandemic put the plan further into the cold storage with the focus shifting to hospitals and healthcare.

In fact, the reopening of cinema is a part of `film tourism’ which government wants to promote in Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from opening cinemas, the government wants to promote the local film industry and woo Bollywood and regional filmmakers to revive the bond with Kashmir.

India is the world’s largest film producer, producing over 1,986 films per year with Tamil (304), Telugu (294), and Hindi (364) being the three largest film-producing languages. India is the 4th largest film market in the world which generates $ 2.1 billion of theatrical revenue, contributing 4% to worldwide theatrical revenue in 2015.

 “Film tourism describes the effects that cinema can have on our travel decisions as they inspire people to experience the screened places first hand. Not only is cinematic tourism an excellent vehicle for destination marketing, but it also presents new product development opportunities, such as location tours, film museums, exhibitions, and the theming of existing tourist attractions with a film connection.  The Indian film industry is one of the largest producers of cinematographic films in the world with an annual certification of 2,336 films during FY15–16. The Indian film industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country today and has grown from ₹ 122 billion in 2016 to ₹ 156 billion in 2017, representing a growth rate of 28%,” the policy said.

(Views expressed are personal. Email: [email protected])