Three decades after militancy had forced its cinema halls to shut down, the big screen has returned to Kashmir. Srinagar’s first-ever multiplex was inaugurated this week, with a screening of Laal Singh Chaddha, the Hindi remake of Forrest Gump starring Aamir Khan. And when regular screenings begin from September 30 with the release of Vikram Vedha, the unique thrill of watching a film in a darkened movie hall in the company of scores of other movie lovers will, hopefully, be once more experienced by Kashmiris.
The return of cinema halls, it is hoped, will help boost its sluggish economy. There is also talk of encouraging the return of film shoots, which were once so common in this region, and the economic fillip such activity will provide. But for ordinary Kashmiris — many of whose last movie theatre memory in the Valley dates back to the 1980s — there is more to the matter: The utterly ordinary magic of moviegoing, out of their reach for 30 years, is finally becoming accessible.
While the world has become accustomed to watching films on screens of various sizes, aided by the so-called golden age of television content and the OTT revolution, the experience of watching a movie in a theatre retains its allure. The miracle that is the light-and-sound machine makes possible other bigger miracles — of transcendence via storytelling, and immersion in other worlds, other rooms, other lives. For the ordinary people of Kashmir, many of whom have grown up without having watched a single film on the big screen, the promise of these miracles — taken for granted by millions around the world — is a hopeful start.