Friday, September 21, 2012



 “Come near. Put your one ear close to the door . Close the other ear with your hand and listen to i. Can you hear Dharmendra ‘s voice ?” said my friend Kuldeep Machama.

“Yes,” said I .

 That is how during our college days we would listen to the dialogues of actors from the roadside gate of Palladium cinema, Lal Chowk. With no parking facility, the doors of the main hall opened straight on the Road. You had to go up the gallery or box seats through the road only. The tickets for the third class( as it used to be called ) were required to be purchased by lining up in a queue covered by iron bars. Once in this queue, you had no option to come out except after reaching the ticket window. Men selling tickets in black, onlookers, pedestrian crowd, fried fish Reddis, pen sellers, Chaurasia’s Pan shop and other small-time traders on the road gave a total roadside aura to this cinema hall. Once a show was over, crowds would pour out choking the narrow roads on both sides of the hall. 

Later during my banking career, I came to know the proprietors as well. They were liberal in giving passes for the gallery when demanded. They would visit the bank to purchase bank drafts generally favouring ' Elora Films, Jalandhar ' , possibly a distribution house for northern India. 

 I have seen late-night shows with men throwing burning cigarette bits to the screen like missiles. Some times someone would cry, “ Soruf! Soruf! or Snake! Snake! ”. Some times someone would put his hand or head or whole body against the projector’s beam creating silhouettes on the screen. Watch any show, the hall was always full of smoke. None could escape the headache that usually visited cinema-goers in Srinagar city cinema halls purely on account of smoke created by large scale smoking. Cigarettes were brought by boys who would sell tea and snacks inside the hall moving from one seat to another in total darkness. The gates would keep opening with people entering as late as one hour after the start of the movie. Lo ! you had to listen to other soundtrack going on in the lower stall. Men drunk( Liquor ) or otherwise would pass loud comments on actions of the hero or the villain. Sometimes clapping in applause and at times cursing the villain loudly. Having said so, it also remains a fact that the proprietors brought new and very good movies for screening. I saw some popular Dustin Hoffman movies in this cinema hall only. We saw Saturday Night Fever twice in this cinema hall. 

The cinema was in the heart of the city or one could say privy to many events that shaped the history of Kashmir since the early forties of the last century. I have seen a photograph of 1945 wherein Sheikh Mohd Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohd are shown addressing a public gathering at Lal Chowk exactly in front of this cinema hall. 

Mun tu shudam tu mun shudi,mun tun shudam tu jaan shudi
 Taakas na guyad baad azeen, mun deegaram tu deegari

 ( Amir Khusro )

 I have become you, and you me,
 I am the body, you soul;
 So that no one can say hereafter,
 That you are someone, and me someone else.

 This is the Persian couplet with which Sheikh Mohd Abdullah welcomed Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in a mammoth gathering at Lal Chowk Srinagar in 1947. Those who came to listen to these leaders say that the dais for this gathering was just opposite Palladium cinema in Lal Chowk. 

 Bhai Anant Singh Gauri (a philanthropic Sikh gentleman) brought cinema to the Kashmir valley by opening the Palladium Talkies at Lal Chowk, Srinagar sometime in 1932. Ardeshir Irani’s Alam-Ara was the first movie screened in this hall. When Sher e Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences was set up at Soura, Srinagar, Bhai Anant Singh donated more than 50 Kanals of land for this premier medical centre in Kashmir valley. Bhai Anant Singh kept his cinema hall at the disposal of the National Militia or Peace Brigade cadres of Kashmir after the tribal raid of 1947. During that period, the cinema hall also became the headquarter of the emergency administration headed by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. 


     ( Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah shaking hands  in a rally in front of Palladium Cinema in Lal Chiowk,  Srinagar ,Kashmir )

                                        ( Ariel view of  Palladium cinema Amira kadal )
                ( Present condition of the cinema Hall .Even this structure is being demolished )

The story of cinema in Kashmir is the story of this hall. The story of cinema crowd management in Kashmir could well be the story of Mohammad Ismail.

Mohammad Ismail was on the payrolls of Palladium cinema, Lal Chowk. He was well built and would be seen outside the entrance to the third-class ticket window or sometimes near the stall window. Many people believed him to be working for the black marketeers of cinema tickets known as ‘ Blackers ’. He would pull out his cane or leather belt and create terror outside the ticket windows by his unique style of crowd management. Sometime in 1981or 1982, I was told by the nearby Chaurasia Paan shop owner something like this:-

“ Mohammad Ismail is a clever dramabaaz. The ticket ' Blackers " are his agents or vice versa. They work for each other’s interests. The moment any blacker notices some gentle family coming near the ticket window, he cries, ‘ Aaayi ha Bobu Ji ta Khoja Sahib ’ or ‘ People from gentle or respectable Pandit and Muslim families have come’. And Ismala (as he was known fondly ) immediately makes noise and charges upon crowds near the ticket windows with his cane or belt. The gentle Pandit and Muslim family ticket buyers get frightened and move away from the ticket windows. At this moment the black marketeers of tickets come out with bundles of tickets and sell them to the respectable and frightened people at a premium. This is all done in connivance. The police, the owners and the employees know everything about this activity .”

Sometimes Mohammad Ismail was seen with the film advertisement band that would start from the Palladium around 9.30 AM with posters, hoardings and a proper Band Baaja. Kashmiri painters advertised the new movie with their innovative sentences written artistically. Sentences like ‘ Ek naagin talwaar chalaane mei maahir ’ or ‘ Gaanv ki bholi ladki aur shahar ka jadoogar ’ or ‘ Maum ki gudiya ki aag se takkar ’ or ‘ Ladaai aur maar kutaayi se 
bhar-poor ’ or ‘ Ek Ladki do deewane ’. The bandmaster and bagpipers played music to the amusement of the onlookers on the road. The bandmaster known as Rajab Sahib ( Mohammad Rajab ) would lead this parade to advertise a new movie. This strange group carried hoardings as they moved through the streets of the city playing music. The advertisement system later changed to hiring Tonga and making rounds in the city with posters and hoardings.

The historic Palladium cinema of Srinagar is now a heap of debris. Burnt and destroyed during armed militancy that visited Kashmir in 1990. A shopping mall is reportedly coming up on the ruins of this cinema hall. Local traders are demanding that a parking place be built after clearing the ruins. Both options give some pain to those who have seen the glory of this cinema hall. Time has to move forward. It can not stop for sentiments. Sentiments are of no value in this market-driven and utility-oriented society.

( Avtar Mota )


Creative Commons License
CHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
Based on a work at http:\\\.