A Film Remembered
In a city without cinemas - I may sound like talking about some alien land when I say that in my childhood some feature films were produced in my mother tongue and screened in the cinema halls -- it was not always like that, the city of Srinagar in my childhood had three cinemas.
I have very vivid impressions about these cinemas. The impressions of massive crowds and long serpentine queues outside ticket booths of the Palladium, the Regal and the Amarash cinemas are as fresh with me as petals of just sprouted morning roses…. The big cinema hoardings outside cinema halls and on all crossings, film posters pasted on wooden lampposts, massive graffiti announcing screening new films and boys hanging around hoardings still hover before my eyes.
These cinemas had been there much before my birth - I don’t know when these were constructed but tales about torturing of political opponents and humiliating voices of dissent inside the Palladium cinema immediately after the flight of the last feudal ruler from the state testify that these existed before my birth… history does tell us about the Palladium cinema becoming the headquarters of the National Conference after the landing of troops from New Delhi at Srinagar airport but I don’t know if there is a social history that tells about the arrival of the cinema in Srinagar and its influences on the society. It sounds ironical but there seems some sense in the belief that the arrival of cinema had some positive implications on our society as it saved a large number of youth from falling in the ‘snares of courtesans’ in the red light areas of the city…. And in discouraging ‘bacha dance’- “the boys would dance to the accompaniment of sitar, rabab and drums”- in my childhood the courtesan culture had died and bacha dance was on the wane and it was confined to marriages but ‘cinema-going’ was its best.
Going to cinema was not only the best pastime for the working class but a craze with the elite also…I do remember the day when two out of the three cinemas were set ablaze by rioters protesting against displacement of the holy relic from the Hazratbal Shrine.. It was not a puritanical rage that had made the young men to torch these two cinemas but anger against the ruling family that owned these cinemas…and I also remember reconstructing of one new cinema out of the two just a few hundred yards away from my school…I don’t remember when the new cinema was reopened but do remember the day when a new cinema started in our locality. It was a D-day for all boys when barely eight hundred meters from home, the Shiraz, a cinema after the famous Iranian city that for influence of Persian language had crept into our folk literature screened the first film.
The opening of this cinema had angered puritans of the locality and they had constituted a committee to see it closed down but ultimately they reconciled… and it buzzed for many more years- till it was forced to closure thus facilitating it becoming a garrison. I was a great cinegoer – how I bunked my practical classes to watch a matinee show I have already written. Honestly! Yes frankly during my teenybopper days I hardly missed a big budget Hollywood movie. I might have seen a very good number of films on the Second World War and the Roman Empire. Some Hollywood films like the Great Escape, Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Ten Commandments, The Robe and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest have left very deep impressions on my mind and some scenes of these films will all their purity live in the hinterland of my mind even to this day. Other than the Hollywood films there are some incidents relating screening of films in the cinema hall in my neighborhood that still live with me with all their freshness… the story of screening a film Khana Khudah- has all its innocence in it that I may write about later some day.
Somewhere in sixties Manzirat- first ever Kashmiri feature film was produced by some producer from Bombay. Most of the artist of Radio Kashmir whom I had never seen but whose voices were familiar to my ears was playing one or the other role in the film. The story of the film- if my memory supports me was written by Ali Muhammad Lone- giant of Kashmiri literature in his own right. Lyrics of G.R. Santosh were put to music by maestro Mohan Lal Aima. A tall and handsome Youngman, Omkar Aima was in the lead role cast against him was Krishna Wali as heroin of the film. The film was co-produced by Pran Kishore. Others that played prominent role in the film were Somnath Sadhu, Nabla Begum, Makhan Lal Saraf, Suraj Tikoo and Jagan Nath Saqi.
I don’t remember the story of the film but it was shot against rural the background of Kashmir and had very truly depicted the ethos and culture of Kashmir. The film more or less was radio feature put on celluloid and had failed to become a hit. It attracted very small crowds but some of the scenes from the film that had touched my sensibilities, when remembered still enliven me.
The spontaneous naturalness of some of the characters in the film has given permanence to some dialogues and scenes on my mind. I very vividly remember a dialogue by Makhan Lal Saraf who played the role of a village shopkeeper in the film….he picks up an egg from a basket with dexterity of an artist and comments- ‘what has happened to Kashmiri hens. They now lay pigeon eggs’- I don’t know if the dialogue writer had written it just for the sake of pun but I always saw it as a subtle comment on the loss of values and decadence of the society. One of the shots- in which Jagar Nath Saqi makes a bid to thieve a neighbor’s cock to me often looked reenactment of a real life scene- I and my friends had caught some ‘Kulfikars’ (gypsies) stealing cocks and hens same way..
I would love watch this film again and relook at it from an adult's perspective- but I am told that Radio Kashmir’s archives it also has been lost.