Braving violence, Kashmir's lone cinema plays on
By Sheikh Mushtaq
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - From behind sandbag bunkers in a run-down building in Kashmir's main city, dozens of gun-wielding soldiers closely watch passers-by.
Fortified with a razor wire fence, visitors to the building are frisked and subjected to a security drill fit for a sensitive military installation.
Welcome to Neelam cinema, the only operational theatre in Kashmir where Muslim separatists fighting Indian rule banned cinema halls, wine shops and beauty parlors as un-Islamic once the revolt began in 1989.
In the face of fear, Neelam draws only a handful of viewers.
"It is an unusual day when more than 30 people turn up for a show," 60-year-old Noor Mohammad, an employee of Neelam cinema told Reuters, pointing to the empty rows of seats.
"People think the situation in Kashmir is still fluid and the large security presence in the cinema makes it more vulnerable."
With cinema audiences down to a trickle following the militant ban on films, Indian security forces converted four of Srinagar's eight theatres into makeshift camps and interrogation centers.
But, locals say, in an attempt to showcase "normalcy" in the region -- whose scenic mountains, meadows and streams were once integral to Indian film shoots -- the Indian authorities helped open three halls, including Neelam, in the late-1990s. Continued...