Rediff.com  » News » This Kashmiri Pandit wants cinemas to reopen in the valley

This Kashmiri Pandit wants cinemas to reopen in the valley

Last updated on: January 31, 2019 16:03 IST

'I am not going to force anyone to watch movies. If they want to, they can come and watch.'
'I want to give them the choice that everyone has in the rest of the country.'

IMAGE: The shuttered main gate of the Neelam cinema in Srinagar. Photograph: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

Kashmiris, who have been denied the cinema-going experience available to their compatriots elsewhere in the country, may finally get to watch Shah Rukh Khan romance, Aamir Khan emote and Salman Khan bash up the baddies on the big screen.

If, that is, local businessman Vijay Dhar has his way and reopens his theatre, the Broadway, which was shut in 1989 after the terrorist outfit Allah Tigers shut down all cinemas in the Kashmir valley for being un-Islamic.

So widespread was the fear of extremists targeting them that all of Kashmir's dozen odd theatres shut down in a year.

As the years went by, some cinema houses were turned into military garrisons. A few summoned up the courage to reopen a few years down the line but downed their shutters after terrorists attacked a cinema house.

It is against this backdrop that Dhar, son of the late diplomat Durga Prasad Dhar who was India's ambassador to Moscow and considered close to then prime minister Indira Gandhi, plans to reopen the Broadway.

"Every child has the dream to watch a movie in the theatres. I want the Kashmiri child to have the same choice that every child in the country has," Dhar -- a self-confessed film buff who regularly travels to New Delhi to catch up on the latest films -- tells Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar.

 

Do you think films and entertainment are un-Islamic?

I am not talking about religion.

Doesn't the terrorist threat worry you? What if you are having a houseful show and the terrorists attack, won't it cause unnecessary and innocent bloodshed?

If you approach anything with a negative mind you cannot do anything in life.

What happened to your own cinema, the Broadway? Did you sell the building, or convert it into something else? Will you be restarting the cinema at the same premises?

Broadway became a commercial centre.

What did the other theatre owners do with their property?

Most of the theatres closed in October 1989. Some were burnt down in 1991. In 1996-1997 two theatres were opened with government help. Both did not run for very long. Some were rented out or sold. One built a hospital, some were taken over by the security forces.

Have you taken out an insurance policy?

I do not have an insurance policy. I believe that what has to happen will happen.

Is there a market for films in Kashmir? In the absence of theatres, how do people watch films?

I am not going to force anyone to watch movies. If they want to, they can come and watch. I want to give them the choice that everyone has in the rest of the country.

I go to Delhi to watch movies every month.

I think they watch films on their computers and mobiles. Movies are available on the Internet.

You already run a successful school, how come you have not started a college or a technical institute which you yourself have said is needed in the valley?

I have dedicated my time to my school. I have also encouraged other citizens to start schools in other districts. I expect everybody to do their bit. I am not going to try doing everything myself.

Omar Abdullah, when he was chief minister, addressed the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and said, 'We don't want industry, we want only tourists.' Do you think this is the right policy for Kashmir?

Kashmir is not only dependent on tourism, though it is an important industry for us. We export Rs 9,000 crore (Rs 90 billion) worth of apples. Our horticulture industry is doing very well. Our saffron is famous the world over.

Kashmiris are working all over the country because of a lack of industry in their own state. The reason, industrialists say, is that outsiders cannot buy land in Kashmir.

Why do industrialists need to buy land? The government is ready to lease out its land for 99 years, a renewable lease, that is enough to start an industry and also more economical.

You don't want outside industrialists, or is it the environment that you are protecting?

Yes, the environment is very important. That is why we don't want any steel plants here. However, we encourage the electronic industry. We also want BPOs.

When you had a coalition government in your state with the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, what stopped you from demanding an IIT, IIM or AIIMS?

We already have an IIT. We are getting two IIMs and two medical colleges. We know the importance of education.

In 1951 we made education compulsory in Jammu and Kashmir. We are the first state in the country to promulgate this law, yet we have the lowest literacy rate in the country.

Since there is so much to be done in Kashmir, do you think a cinema hall is so important?

Every child has the dream to watch a movie in the theatres. I want the Kashmiri child to have the same choice that every child in the country has.

What do you think is the way to peace in Kashmir?

Bringing peace to Kashmir can be done by looking at small things one at a time.

We should be happy that in the last four years we don't have Pakistan sloganeering any more. We adopted a village and built two schools with all the necessary infrastructure. It is being run by people there and it is doing well.

The government can do much more.

We lost Rs 16 crores (Rs 160 million) during the Kashmir floods, the government did not help us. They could have as we are running a school which is for the people.

We lost Rs 6 crores (Rs 60 million) owing to militancy, again the government looked the other way.

I know the government ordered 160 ambulances for Kashmir, but I don't see a single one on the road. These ambulances could help so many people in need which will build goodwill.

There is a Rs 3,600 crore (Rs 36 billion) fund to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits who were driven out by terrorists, but not a single rupee has been spent. Why?

I studied in the Guindy Engineering College in Chennai because we had a reciprocal agreement with all states. Two students from our state used to study there and two used to come here to study. It helped in integration, it was such an excellent scheme.

What happened to that scheme? Nobody knows. But it is not being implemented now.

During (then prime minister) Manmohan Singh's tenure they announced that Kashmiri students can go to college anywhere in the country and their fees would be paid by the central government.

Such a good idea, but was it implemented? How many students have used that fund? Nobody knows.

The government runs over 6,000 schools in Kashmir, each school has less than 60 students. People, like in the rest of the country, prefer private schools. We don't have government-aided schools like the rest of the country.

Why can't the government help private schools who are providing better education than their own schools?

Education, healthcare and jobs are what the government needs to think about. You cannot give everyone a government job, so you have to encourage private industry.

Also, there are very good restaurants and hotels in Kashmir. We need more of them.

There is no one remedy to solve the Kashmir issue.

Firstly, you have to realise that there is no Kashmir issue. Education, healthcare and jobs are needed everywhere in the country. We have to work on that.

Once there is peace, maybe they can start using that Rs 3,600 crores to rehabilitate the Pandits.

How have you stayed away from the National Conference and the PDP?

I am not a political person.

A Ganesh Nadar / Rediff.com
SHARE THIS STORY