SRINAGAR, India — A multi-screen movie theater opened in India’s main city of Kashmir for the first time in 14 years on Saturday in a government bid to show normalcy in the disputed region that came under direct Indian rule three years ago. years.
Decades of deadly conflict, bombing and a brutal Indian counter-insurgency campaign have driven people from cinemas, with only a dozen moviegoers lining up for the first morning show, the Bollywood action flick “Vikram Vedha.” The 520-seat, three-screen theater opened under tight security in the high-security area of Srinagar, which also houses India’s regional military headquarters.
“There are different views on (cinema), but I think it’s a good thing,” said movie buff Faheem, who gave only one name. “It’s a sign of progress.”
Others on the show declined to comment.
The afternoon and evening shows had less than 10% occupancy on Saturday, according to India’s leading movie booking website, in.bookmyshow.com.
The multiplex was officially opened on September 20 by Manoj Sinha, the chief administrator of New Delhi in Kashmir. The cinema is part of the Indian multiplex chain Inox in partnership with a Kashmiri businessman.
After Kashmiri militants rebelled against Indian rule in 1989, launching a bloody insurgency that was met with a brutal response from Indian troops, the once-thriving city of Srinagar withered. The eight private cinemas in the city were closed by order of the rebels, saying they were vehicles of the cultural invasion of India and anti-Islamic.
In the early 1990s, government forces converted most of the city’s theaters into makeshift security camps, detention or interrogation centers. Soon, places where the public thronged to see Bollywood blockbusters became feared buildings, where witnesses say torture was commonplace.
However, three movie theaters, backed by government financial assistance, reopened in 1999 amid an official push to project the idea that life had returned to normal in Kashmir. Shortly afterward, a shelling outside a hall in the heart of Srinagar killed one civilian and injured scores of others and shut it down again. Tired Kashmiris largely stayed away, and the other saloon closed its doors within a year. One theater, the Neelam, lasted until 2008.
Officials said the government plans to set up cinemas in every district in the region, where tens of thousands have been killed in the armed conflict since 1989. Last month, Sinha also opened two multi-purpose halls in the southern districts of Shopian and Pulwama. , considered as foci of armed rebellion.
“The government is committed to changing perceptions about Jammu and Kashmir, and we know that people want entertainment and want to watch movies,” Sinha told reporters at the opening.
In 2019, India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy and brought it under direct control, putting Kashmir under a severe security and communications blockade.
The region has remained on edge ever since, as authorities also enacted a series of new laws, which critics and many residents fear could change the demographics of the region.