All the worlds a stage and we are mere players… said Shakespeare. So, is it high time that we bring the world stage to our very own backyard? Is it time to expand the horizon of cinema and theatre in the roots of Kashmir? Why is it the need of the hour to promote the silver screen to golden valley?

Cinema, the Household Story Firstly, let us look at how cinema in our own country, nay the entire world has been such an influencer in the lives of people. It has produced iconic themes and characters that the public has accepted as their own, identified with them, dreamed them and lived them as their own.

The bombastic image of an ‘angry young man’ in Amitabh Bachan, the romantic charms of the ‘King Khan’, the ‘Bhai look and attitude’ of Salman or the awe inspiring ‘Khiladi action’ and social drives led by Akshay Kumar. The typical damsel in Kajol, idea of ‘Mother India’ in the ever-classic film, the grandeur of Madhubala in her career or the queen of hearts in Madhuri. Each and every one of us has identified and been influenced by this strong and popular medium. Even here in Kashmir, the average citizen is no stranger to this fandom with boys looking up to ‘Sallu Bhai’ as their brother and girls styling over the beauties on screen.

Cinema, the Creative Escape Cinema through its medium brings about creativity in the minds of its viewers. It enables them to think and dream that which has not been yet. In Kashmir, where life is often stuck between an uncertain weather and an uncertain politico-military environment, it acts as an escape from the daily routines and insecurities. It has the potential to engage the minds of the citizens, especially the youth towards constructive and creative activities rather than remaining idle prey for negative elements. Elements that would rather have them imprisoned in radicalism and hatred for an enemy that does not exist.

Cinema, the Messenger Cinema is a mass media that has the potential to bring a singular clear message to the masses in an attractive and entertaining form. With the government and the Army trying their best to send out a positive image of India and the system to the citizens of the valley so as to enable not a mere legal or political integration, but a mental and social integration into the mainstream, cinema is a massive asset that can be used to accomplish the task. Bollywood, which is a massive hit even in Pakistan with fans from all walks of life, can hold the key as a soft power in winning hearts and minds.

Cinema, the Dreamer Aspirations rise only when we dream the dreams, and what better dream world than that of cinema. Cinema exposes its viewers to a whole new world of possibilities out there, the kinds of professions there are, the opinions of people, the lives they lead and so on. How often have we ourselves been asked, that was it the film Lakshay or LOC Kargil that motivated us to join the army in recent times. The biopics of sportsmen, leaders and business tycoons show us a different path than the one we are on. The same is possible here in Kashmir as well. What better opportunity for us to wean the youth away from a life of violence and despair to that of possibilities and future prospect.

The upcoming stars from the valley also promote this very idea of freeing oneself from the life of extremist violence. Examples of Aadil Pala, from Dalgate area of Srinagar who has now started in two major blockbusters, Bajrangi Bhaijan besides Salman Khan and Raazi with Alia Bhat as a costar is an inspiration to many minds and a heartthrob for scores of people. Bhawani Bashir Yasir, the twinkly-eyed gent plays a crucial role in the awe-inspiring film Kesari, the Kashmir-set Haider and also Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

Cinema, The Thought Provoker An ardent interest in performing arts and the big screen induce critical and lateral thinking that not only expand the mental and emotional horizon but enable the people to question the existing systems of oppression and express their discontent bringing to them the possibility of a brighter future. The art of questioning and the art of expression are natural consequences of being exposed to a wideness of the world, which is so often so beautifully enclosed in cinema. It is as though the world is happening in front of your eyes itself.

Cinema, The Industry Cinema on its own is an industry with wide range of opportunities and not just as an actor or director. With the promotion of cinema and rise in its popularity, all its allied industries too demand for a workforce that provides much needed employment. Often called the Switzerland of India, Kashmir holds in it immense natural beauty which has been the inspiration of poets, kings, artists, traders, authors and yes film makers from time immemorial.

The vast beauty of Kashmir has often been depicted in many a film across the decades and continues to attract them again and again, but for the threat of terrorism. With employment of youth and their engagement in artistic activity the whole operation of radicalism and systematic propagation of hatred and violence over the generations can be challenged. A free thinking, well aware and self-sufficient society would not so easily fall into trap of elements that currently use them for their own agendas.

The Challenges Ahead Even though the scope for revival and spread of cinema in the valley is huge, it does not come without its set of challenges. The primary one being, social and religious acceptance of the art and its uncensored broadcast. The situation in Kashmir is heavily governed by its social and religious outlook which does not support or encourage art in all its forms. Often deemed sacrilege and blasphemous, it is extremely difficult for the average citizen to have access to it and enjoy it for what it is without it being dragged into a religious or social affair.

Casualties till Date The examples of this are ever so evident in cases such those of three 10th class student’s vocalist-guitarist Noma Nazir, drummer Farah Deeba and guitarist Aneeka Khalid who decided to disband after receiving threats and criticism from the local people and fatwas from the priests. An even more shocking case was of Zaira Wasim who became a national favorite for her roles in Dangal and Secret Superstar, but had to quit the film industry and even apologize after being trolled and shamed publicly by radicals back home. Though the public is a fan of Bollywood, the puppeteers like the separatists and the radicals prohibit its following by lashing out fatwas and threats. A result of this is mass censorship and banning of all that is considered ‘art’ in its true form.

Kashmir has been a set for films and a loved destination for film makers over the years but with the threat of looming political instability, security concerns and socio-religious censorship, the film industry looks outside for similar opportunities. What is in our own home is left out. It’s not just the cinema that loses out of this, but the native population that can harness this as an industry and employment opportunity along with it being an amazing artistic opportunity for young creative minds.

The Challenge of Access Another challenge is the outreach and accessibility of this medium to the masses in relation to infrastructure, cost and viewership. With lack of cinema houses, a broken economy and rampant unemployment, viewing a film in a cinema house is a far-fetched luxury to many. For those who chose to access it on the web, or television, the uncertainty of curfew, government blocking of internet and tv due to ops and slow net speed in general come out as technical obstacles to its viewership.

Though the challenges are many, the love of cinema has hardly been affected and in the future holds the prospect of being a powerful medium of communication, art, employment, and as an influencer of the Hearts and Minds in the Valley.

Courtesy : Prabhav Rajvanshi 15

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