Kashmir is back on the cinema map (IANS Column: B-Town)

This has been an eventful week. From the North of India to the South, news related to the film industries have dominated the discussions on television news channels as well as the social media. That is because there is some positive news and there is also news that fails to make sense.

The best news of the week is the return of cinema screens in Srinagar. The IMAX chain has revived the cinema business in Kashmir after a gap of 30 years following the start of militancy and terrorism in the late 1980s. The Kashmir valley had as many as nine cinema halls. That was the single-screen era.

Jammu and Kashmir was a part of the East Punjab territory as it was known in the film trade (West Punjab having gone to Pakistan). The valley was fittingly described as heaven on earth where a lot many films were shot. In fact, it was a favourite location to shoot romantic songs as well as the place where romances started. Also, the contribution of Jammu and Kashmir to the talent pool of the film industry was commendable.

Three decades ago, when there was peace, like the rest of the country, Kashmiris too enjoyed the movie-watching experience. My job at that time was to transcribe the cinema collections that came through telegrams and, later on fax, for a trade paper I worked for. There was nothing abnormal, the Kashmiri loved or rejected a film just like any other circuit. But things changed. There were no collection figures from Kashmir to compile.

When the insurgency began, the idea seemed to create panic and cinemas being public places were targeted. A bomb blast at one of the cinemas put paid to the exhibition trade. Efforts to revive the cinemas in the 1990s were not successful.

Built by Vijay Dhar, the cinema will add to the IMAX chain and will bring the movie-viewing experience back for the people of Srinagar and the nearby areas when it opens to the public on September 30 with ‘Vikram Vedha’ and Mani Ratnam’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ (PS)-1.

‘Chhello Show’: A bolt from the blue

It was time for the nomination for an Indian entry in the Best International Film category at the Oscars. Usually, the Indian choice to send a film for the Oscar race is treated as a joke. Some or the other lobby is at work not only when it comes to Oscars or other such international honours, but also for the local, so-called popular film awards.

What is a popular award? A film the people took to and was a success at the box office. Some two films have been successful this year, one of them being ‘The Kashmir Files’. The film does not even find a mention in any category of nominations.

The films in discussion all over for India’s choice were two, ‘RRR’ and ‘The Kashmir Files’. Realistically, there were no other contenders as far as the people at large and those on social media were concerned. There was no other film that the netizen could think of.

Yet, there were 13 films vying for the honour — six in Hindi: ‘The Kashmir Files’, ‘Rocketry’, ‘Badhaai Ho’, ‘Jhund’, ‘Anek’ and ‘Brahmastra’; two in Telugu: ‘RRR’ and ‘Sita Ramam’; and one each in Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam, Dimasa (a dialect spoken in Assam) and Gujarati: ‘Iravin Nizhai’, ‘Aparajito’, ‘Ariyippu’, ‘Semkhor’ and ‘Chhello Show’, respectively.

But a rank outsider, for the people at least, ‘Chhello Show’ (Gujarati), was the choice of the selection committee. An outsider, because few had heard of this film, which did not get any media exposure till it was chosen as India’s official selection for the Oscars. The film is said to be inspired from the 1988 Italian film, ‘Cinema Paradiso’, about a small-town boy who is enamoured of the cinema.

‘Cinema Paradiso’ or not, I would say the film identifies equally or more with the film’s director Pan Nalin’s life journey. Coming from a small village named Adtala (population less than 2,000) near Amreli in Saurashtra, it was creditable that Nalin graduated from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, an institution as highly regarded as any IIM or IIT in its field. All the time cinema fascinated him.

Nalin has worked and made films in many tie-ups and made his reputation all over. ‘Chhello Show’ springs a surprise on film buffs. It will be worthwhile to see if it springs a surprise at the Oscars. When the selection committee is neutral sans vested interests, a surprise can always be expected. Like the one sprung with the choice of ‘Hellaro’, a Gujarati film, for the 66th National Award a couple of years ago.

Tamil industry’s half-baked ideas

This news is from the South. It is a no-brainer. Since the Telugu film industry has set certain norms for members as well as the stars and the cinemas through the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC), the Tamil Film Producer Council (TFPC) has decided to prove that it is the dormant body.

How else does the TFPC plan to ask the film critics to refrain from writing / publishing reviews of new films till Sunday?! The major media, as in daily broadsheets, always reviewed films in the Sunday editions. The Sunday editions of the papers were meant for leisurely reading with opinions, features on various subjects as well as film reviews. Did that save a film from failing?

The business of movie reviews was all about passing of envelopes. Gradually, someone thought that giving stars to a film made better business sense. Four and five stars carried a decent price tag.

There were critics who had high praise if it was a film by Gulzar or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, but ran down the films by Manmohan Desai and other such commercial makers. One critic whom I knew praised Kamal Amrohi’s ‘Razia Sultan’ to the skies ending his review with something to the effect that the film was worth every paisa you spent on the ticket. By the second show, the Rs 5 tickets were being sold by black marketers for 50 paise. It was a distress sale for there were no takers. I told the critic how right he was!

A film released on a Friday is accepted or rejected after the first show. Critics and their reviews have never mattered to the masses; they only helped massage the egos of the film stars and producers. What always mattered was the word of mouth and, today, social media does that job.

High admission rates fail a film Finally, the cinemas offered tickets at a flat rate of Rs 75 on Friday, September 23, and drew full houses all ove (the offer was valid for seats other than those in the premium zones).

I hope the cinema managements have learnt from their own experiment that it is often the high admission rates that fail a film. In the present scenario, only the stars and the cinemas make money, the producer only struggles and has to depend on other outlets such as OTT platforms and satellite rights, where, again, the price depends on a film’s box office performance!

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