KASHMIR CONFLICT

Kashmir has lost its cinema halls but not its love for the movies

Abandoned theatres have been turned into security camps, hotels, and even a hospital, but piracy keeps alive the passion for moving images.

In Srinagar’s Lal Chowk market are the ruins of what was once a movie lovers’ paradise – the Palladium cinema. Today, all that remains is the faded blue mosaic-tiled facade, surrounded by buildings that are still full of life. Once, people stood in long queues to buy tickets to watch their favourite movie stars on the big screen. Today, the Palladium’s only permanent guests are security forces.

A few kilometers away, it’s the same sorry tale at Neelam. Here too, vigilant soldiers guard watchtowers; long sheets of tin hide the building from view; spools of concertina wire surround the theatre’s compound. The only sign of Neelam’s past grandeur is a decaying signboard bearing its name.

The eruption of militancy in the 1990s brought down the curtain on the 19 cinema halls in Kashmir, including nine in Srinagar. Today, most of the theatres are camps for security forces, while others have been turned into hotels, shopping complexes and even a hospital. But they live on in the memories of the people, who still remember the joy of going to the movies.

Aijaz Ahmad, a resident of downtown Srinagar, attended a school close to Neelam. Every Saturday, which was a half-day, he and his friends would plead with the school watchman to let them off early so they could catch the afternoon show.

Sheikh Irfan, also from the same area and now in his 40s, recalled watching Sholay several times with friends, never once paying for tickets. “We would go to the nearby Khayam cinema,” he said, a broad smile lighting up his face. “With sticks we would make slits in the [window] net to watch the film from outside.”

Ahmad Warsi, a shopkeeper in his late 50s, was a regular at Palladium. According to him, the post-’90s generation grew up in “an abnormal situation”, never knowing what life was like for the generations before them. “We would go for the night show at 9 pm and stay out late with friends, sipping tea and chatting,” he said. “What do we tell them about how we enjoyed ourselves?”

Then: Long queues outside Palladium in the 1980s.
Then: Long queues outside Palladium in the 1980s.
Now: The cinema house in ruins. It houses a bunker for security forces.
Now: The cinema house in ruins. It houses a bunker for security forces.

The slow death of cinemas

Everything changed as the Valley plunged into chaos in the summer of 1989. As Islamist militants took over the streets within a matter of months, the campaign against what they deemed un-Islamic intensified. Among the first diktats was a ban on liquor vends and cinema halls, issued by Allah Tigers, a radical outfit.

Amidst threats and intimidation, the vends and cinemas shut down one after another. As the government started pushing in troops to suppress the militancy, bunkers made an appearance in the abandoned cinema halls. By 1994, these venues of entertainment had become some of the most dreaded places in the Valley – home to camps formally called interrogation centres but more commonly known as torture chambers.

In 1999, three cinema halls – Regal, Neelam and Broadway – reopened. That same year in September, militants attacked Regal with grenades, killing one moviegoer and injuring 12. Then, in September 2005, Neelam – the only operational movie theatre in Srinagar by then – was the stage for an encounter between the police and suicide attackers in which one militant was killed. Around 70 people were in the theatre at the time, watching the Aamir Khan-starrer Mangal Pandey.

Going to the movies became so dangerous, and the taboo associated with it so strong, that “no one wanted to be found injured in a cinema”, recalled Irfan. “If you got injured while watching a film and people got to know, they would question your character,” he added.

With political turmoil and unrest following years of militancy, many Kashmiris no longer mourn the movie halls. “Kashmiris have been dying [because of recurring turmoil] in the last 25 years to 30 years,” said Aijaz. “This [cinema halls] is a nonsensical issue now.”

Pirates to the rescue

However, the demise of the movie-going culture in Kashmir – which once served as the setting for numerous Indian films and songs – did not end of the people’s love for cinema. They turned to television sets and video cassette recorders. Sales of televisions, VCRs and video cassettes picked up. Later, video CDs and DVDs became popular. For Kashmiris who had never watched a film in a theatre, the small screens of their computers, laptops and television sets became their window to the world of moving images.

Irfan has been in the pirated movie trade since the ’90s. Following the ban on cinema halls, business was good, he said, until internet downloads became widespread.

However, people still come to his shop, near a defunct cinema hall, looking for cheap DVDs of old Hindi movies. “While browsing, they talk about the cinema halls where they watched the movie,” Irfan said.

Video cassette dealers were on the radar of militants in the early days, Irfan said. “We, too, were threatened in the 1990s,” he said. “Posters and bans were issued by militant organisations. There was once a grenade attack on us but we did not pay heed.” Despite the risks, customers still came to them.

While the summer of unrest in 2016 broke the backs of businesses across the Valley, it had the opposite effect for Irfan’s customer base. Pirated copies of the latest Hindi, English and Tamil movies did not stop, Irfan’s store did better business than usual, helped by the internet ban. “People from across Srinagar came to buy CDs, many of them buying in bulk for reselling,” he said. “What else was there to do?”

Movie pirates did roaring business even during the summer unrest, helped by the internet ban.
Movie pirates did roaring business even during the summer unrest, helped by the internet ban.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

How technology is changing the way Indians work

An extensive survey reveals the forces that are shaping our new workforce 

Shreya Srivastav, 28, a sales professional, logs in from a cafe. After catching up on email, she connects with her colleagues to discuss, exchange notes and crunch numbers coming in from across India and the world. Shreya who works out of the café most of the time, is employed with an MNC and is a ‘remote worker’. At her company headquarters, there are many who defy the stereotype of a big company workforce - the marketing professional who by necessity is a ‘meeting-hopper’ on the office campus or those who have no fixed desks and are often found hobnobbing with their colleagues in the corridors for work. There are also the typical deskbound knowledge workers.

These represent a new breed of professionals in India. Gone are the days when an employee was bound to a desk and the timings of the workplace – the new set of professionals thrive on flexibility which leads to better creativity and productivity as well as work-life balance. There is one common thread to all of them – technology, tailored to their work styles, which delivers on speed and ease of interactions. Several influential industry studies and economists have predicted that digital technologies have been as impactful as the Industrial Revolution in shaping the way people work. India is at the forefront of this change because of the lack of legacy barriers, a fast-growing economy and young workers. Five factors are enabling the birth of this new workforce:

Smart is the way forward

According to the Future Workforce Study conducted by Dell, three in five working Indians surveyed said that they were likely to quit their job if their work technology did not meet their standards. Everyone knows the frustration caused by slow or broken technology – in fact 41% of the working Indians surveyed identified this as the biggest waste of time at work. A ‘Smart workplace’ translates into fast, efficient and anytime-anywhere access to data, applications and other resources. Technology adoption is thus a major factor in an employee’s choice of place of work.

Openness to new technologies

While young professionals want their companies to get the basics right, they are also open to new technologies like Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. The Dell study clearly reflects this trend — 93% of Indians surveyed are willing to use Augmented/Virtual Reality at work and 90% say Artificial Intelligence would make their jobs easier. The use of these technologies is no longer just a novelty project at firms. For example, ThysenKrupp, the elevator manufacturer uses VR to help its maintenance technician visualize an elevator repair job before he reaches the site. In India, startups such as vPhrase and Fluid AI are evolving AI solutions in the field of data processing and predictive analysis.

Desire for flexibility 

A majority of Indians surveyed rate freedom to bring their own devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones etc.) to work very highly. This should not be surprising, personal devices are usually highly customized to an individual’s requirements and help increase their productivity. For example, some may prefer a high-performance system while others may prioritize portability over anything else. Half the working Indians surveyed also feel that the flexibility of work location enhances productivity and enables better work-life balance. Work-life balance is fast emerging as one of the top drivers of workplace happiness for employees and initiatives aimed at it are finding their way to the priority list of business leaders.

Maintaining close collaboration 

While flexible working is here to stay, there is great value in collaborating in person in the office. When people work face to face, they can pick up verbal and body language cues, respond to each other better and build connections. Thus, companies are trying to implement technology that boosts seamless collaboration, even when teams are working remotely. Work place collaboration tools like Slack and Trello help employees keep in touch and manage projects from different locations. The usage of Skype has also become common. Companies like Dell are also working on hi-tech tools such as devices which boost connectivity in the most remote locations and responsive videos screens which make people across geographies feel like they are interacting face to face.

Rise of Data Security 

All these trends involve a massive amount of data being stored and exchanged online. With this comes the inevitable anxiety around data security. Apart from more data being online, security threats have also evolved to become sophisticated cyber-attacks which traditional security systems cannot handle. The Dell study shows that about 74% of those surveyed ranked data security measures as their number one priority. This level of concern about data security has made the new Indian workforce very willing to consider new solutions such as biometric authentication and advanced encryption in work systems.

Technology is at the core of change, whether in the context of an enterprise as a whole, the workforce or the individual employee. Dell, in their study of working professionals, identified five distinct personas — the Remote Workers, the On-The-Go Workers, the Desk-centric Workers, the Corridor Warriors and the Specialized Workers.

Dell has developed a range of laptops in the Dell Latitude series to suit each of these personas and match their requirements in terms of ease, speed and power. To know more about the ‘types of professionals’ and how the Dell Latitude laptops serve each, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Dell and not by the Scroll editorial team.