Under the shadow of a newly installed watch tower manned by police surveying the surrounding area, nearly 150 movie-goers quietly filed past the ticket office and into the screening room.
Many either hid their faces or avoided contact with the clutch of journalists gathered outside to document the reopening of cinema in the restive Muslim-majority Indian region of Kashmir for the first time in three decades.
Amid fears of reprisals from armed Muslim separatists, a police vehicle has been stationed permanently at the premises of the 520-seat Inox Cinema while another regularly patrols outside.
Vikas Dhar, the owner of the multiplex, said he wanted to bring the “interval of no cinema” in Kashmir to an end.
'My dream is fulfilled'
“I am satisfied that my dream to show the first movie to my people is fulfilled today. It’s encouraging that 36 people came to watch the movies in the morning show,” Mr Dhar, a Kashmiri Hindu, told The Telegraph.
But despite the heightened security, there were just a handful of locals who dared to attend the first showing of the Bollywood action-thriller movie Vikram and Vedha at the weekend – most were tourists from elsewhere in India.
“If our parents have watched movies in cinemas in Kashmir why can’t we watch them? We should detach cinema from politics,” said Hamza Muneer, a student in Srinagar.
Whether the two can be detached given the dark history in Kashmir remains to be seen.
Almost all venues for public entertainment were shut down when an anti-India armed insurgency erupted in 1989.
As militancy waned in the region, the decision to reopen cinemas was made. But on the inaugural night on Sept 24 1999 armed rebels lobbed three grenades at Regal Cinema in Lal Chowk, the high-security city centre in Srinagar.
One person was killed and 12 others were seriously injured in the attack.
In recent years there has been a fresh push to return life to normal in Kashmir.
In 2019 Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, revoked Kashmir’s limited autonomy and gave New Delhi greater control over the disputed region.
Encourage Indians from other regions
The government has also introduced a series of policies to encourage Indians from other regions to move there, a move that locals see as a discriminatory attempt to dilute the local culture and change Kashmiri demography.
Last year, it implemented a film policy offering incentives for anyone using Kashmir as a filming destination.
“A well-nurtured film industry can be a major source of wealth creation, employment generation and an effective tool and platform for preservation of culture and expression of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” reads the policy.
Kashmir had a long association with Bollywood and many blockbuster movies were shot in the region before the armed insurgency erupted.
Mr Dhar said he wants to rebuild that relationship and tell the region’s stories to the outside world. He is optimistic that despite the muted opening weekend, business will pick up.
“People are passionate about cinema in Kashmir and I believe the number of cinema-goers will increase as the days pass by,” he said.