Sunday, February 2, 2020




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.
The historic Palladium cinema of Srinagar is now a heap of debris. Burnt and destroyed during armed militancy, the story of Cinema in Kashmir is the story of this Cinema 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 cinema ticket ‘ 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 BLACKERS 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 band master 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.

( Avtar Mota )

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