Kashmir is the valley of infinite stories but due to rising indifference toward the art forms, the stories of the Valley are going unheard, Dyuti Khulbe in her in-depth piece on Kashmir cinemas, art, and culture.
Amidst the bustling market of Lal Chowk, unnoticed yet indelible, the Palladium Cinema still stands gloriously as it did decades ago. To honour the remnants of the legacy of cinema houses, some vendors still sell movie CDs opposite Palladium Cinema.
“I love watching films, especially local Kashmiri films,” says Nisar Ahmad, who owns a small movie CD stall opposite Palladium Cinema.
“For the past few years, the supplies of Kashmiri movie CDs went down, and now it has completely stopped,” he says while re-organising his stall.
Nisar has been selling movie CDs for 15 years now.
However, due to fall in sales of CDs, he has also started to sell mobile accessories to sustain his business.
“We have stopped selling CDs of local Kashmiri movies. They are not being made now, and a few movies that are still made are available online. They don’t come out on CDs. We only sell Bollywood movies,” he says.
The Valley has always been vibrant with all shades of art and culture. However, with discouragements like ban on cinema, low financial aids to local artists and the rising conflict, the art and culture of the Valley are suffering.
“This is the period of cultural invasion,” says Ayash Arif, TV producer, and an eminent theatre artist.
He recounts the era of 1970s and 1980s when the art and cultural activities of Kashmir were “at its peak”. People like Shameem Dev Azad and Kailash Mehra rose to fame in that glorious decade of art and cultural activities.
“Artists received appreciation and assistance from Cultural Academy, Radio Kashmir, and Doordarshan which encouraged more and more people to embrace and showcase their talent,” Ayash says.
However, after 1990s when the Valley saw turmoil, the budding world of arts and culture witnessed stagnation to the point where the priorities of the authorities and people changed.
With the efforts of local artists’ fraternity, the authorities did try to stir the stagnation by taking initiatives to give youth a platform to showcase their talent.
“In 2001, our very own Kashmiri channel, DD Kashir was launched,” Ayash says. “The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting did focus on young talent. Consequently, many people also started to take up television as profession. Quality programmes and movies were being produced by our own talent. Even the folk theatre and dramas were showcased.”
However, in 2010, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting withdrew the funds from this sector.
Financial assistance to the cultural academy and the producers stopped.
This disabled the producers to pay the artists which consequently led the artists to take up another profession.
And since then, art and cultural activities are collapsing.
“DD Kashir and Radio Kashmir are the two main platforms for us Kashmiri artists where we see our careers attached with. But now, even DD Kashir has taken away 4 hours of transmission to show non-Kashmiri feature films. How are we supposed to promote our art and culture when the transmission time is being reduced and no financial assistance is being provided?” Ayash says.
Nazir Ahmad Shah, owner of the Shah Cinema in Srinagar downtown, also feels that the authenticity of Kashmiri art and culture is being forgotten.
“In order to upkeep the essence of art forms, a tinge of commercialisation is important. However, with the ban on cinema in our State, we are unable to commercialise theatre and as a result, people these days are not able to appreciate art as they did back in those days,” Shah says.
The last movie that Shah played in his cinema hall was Elan-e-Jung in 1989 before BSF and CRPF ransacked his hall.
After a few years, Farooq Abdullah’s government came to power and he called the owners of cinema halls for a meeting.
“He expressed his concern over re-opening of the cinemas. He promised us subsidy as well. Two to three cinemas did open, however, all closed again eventually after a blast in Regal,” Shah says.
Most of the young people today passionate about various art forms and willing to make career in arts are forced to leave Kashmir for places where they can embrace and showcase their talent.
“The authorities have failed Kashmir youth,” Ayash says.
Mir Sarwar, who has starred in films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Phantom, is one of the many artists who left the Valley for Bollywood.
“I first tried to build my career in Kashmir itself. However, I was told by many producers that it’s not productive and they don’t want to put money in something which has no returns,” says Sarwar, who left Kashmir in 1999.
“Art shouldn’t be overshadowed by the religious fundamentalism and the ongoing conflict,” says Abid Nassir, a scriptwriter in Bollywood. “Here they look down upon this profession as much as they enjoy watching movies. I would like to see a more liberal approach on this. I think it needs a revival in Kashmir as it is not just a movie but an art of story-telling that has been carried out by humans since ages. Movie is a good medium to tell stories. It helps in sensitizing a society by pushing it to think critically. Cinemas don’t drive you to a certain conclusion. It leaves on the viewers to decide for themselves.”
Falling on similar lines, Suheem Khanday, who worked with Vishal Bhardwaj in Haider, says, “Government must step in to form a film school in Kashmir which will help them grow as filmmaker. Since there are no halls for the screening of regional movies in Kashmir, Kashmiri filmmakers don’t have any medium to showcase their films. Censorship is one of major issues faced by young filmmakers in Kashmir. Films on human rights violations have been banned in the recent past.”
Kashmir is the valley of infinite stories, stories that have been portrayed through dance, drama and music since ages. However, due to the rising indifference toward the art forms, the stories of the Valley are going unheard.