How ‘blackers’ did business on Bollywood hits in Srinagar

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz. Updated: 9/30/2022 11:33:11 AM Front Page

One ‘blacker’ at Palladium bought auto in 3 days of business

SRINAGAR :Their livelihood was dependent on the popularity of the Bollywood films. From Prithviraj Kapoor and Madhubala to Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini, Indian film icons were like gods of wealth for them. People used to call them ‘blackers’. They used to buy tickets in bulk in advance and sell the same at exorbitant rates—two to three times of the fixed rate—to the legion of the movie buffs who failed to make it to the window.

Emboldened by the release of five detained militants in exchange for the then union Home Minister Mufti Sayeed’s daughter, Dr Rubaiya Sayeed, the militants imposed a ban on all forms of entertainment media and enforced the same with threats from 31 December 1989. Attempts to revive cinema failed even as the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah opened three theatres, invited producers and directors to the valley in 1998 and announced cash assistance of Rs 10 lakh to the iconic Bollywood villain Amrish Puri who was in the valley.
When Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurated Kashmir’s first Inox multiplex on 20 September 1998, it brought back memories of the summer capital’s ‘blackers’ who did brisk businesses out of black marketing of tickets 1960s through 1980s. Netizens posted on social media pictures of the massive crowds and posters of Manmohan Desai’s 1979 magnum opus ‘Suhaag’ on the façade of Palladium at Lalchowk.

One of the photographs shows the then most popular pairs—Amitabh Bachchan-Rekha and Shahshi Kapoor-Parveen Babi. It appears to have been clicked on 30 October 1979 when the film was released for all-India screening.
“Suhaag had the most popular songs like ‘Aajimtihanhai’, ‘O Sheron Wali’, ‘Teri rab ne bandijodi’. Palladium had a total capacity of about 1000 seats but more than 3000 people gathered. Ismala, the dreaded bouncer and muscleman with a thick leather belt always in his hands, maintained order. The blackers sold tickets at three to four times the fixed rate. It continued for over a month”, said Ghulam Mohiuddin, now a retired government employee, who failed to get a ticket.
“One of the most familiar blackers, whose name was Ghulam Hassan but the people called him Hassan Pacha, made a fast buck. He purchased a three-wheeler out of the money made from black marketing of the tickets for just three days”, Dr Suneem Khan, a Kashmiri physician working in the CRPF, recollected. According to him, there used to be 3 to 6 ‘blackers’ at all the theatres in Srinagar. Even as black marketing was an offence, they carried out their business smoothly as their regular customers included a number of senior and middle rung government officers who wouldn’t pay anything extra.
“The blackers had distributed the theatres as per the areas of their residence and influence. One Mann Shoda had his business at Naaz. Qasim used to be always present at Broadway. Later both of them joined JKLF but relinquished militancy soon. One Shaji Gur carried out business at Palladium, Firdaus and Khayyam”, Dr Khan added. He said that as a student those days he used to buy tickets from the same ‘blackers’ at higher rates in order to ensure that he didn’t miss the first day shows.
Until the early 1980s, the government's fixed rates were Rs 2 for stall, Rs 5 for dress and Rs 10-15 for gallery/balcony. By 1989, a ticket at the proper counter could be purchased at Rs 10 for stall, Rs 20 for dress, Rs 40 for gallery. Same would sell like hot cakes and at asking prices for the initial weeks of the most hit films like ‘Pakeeza’, ‘Mother India’, ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, ‘Pratigya’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Kabhi Kabhi’, ‘Ram Teri Ganga Meli’ et al which ran for months together at the screens in Srinagar in 1970s and 1980s.
Fear was all-pervading and there was only a lukewarm response when Broadway, Regal and Neelam opened after 8 years of militancy and operated their businesses for some months in 1998-99. “There was never a houseful. Only a few cine-goers would make it to a theatre. A grenade attack and an encounter happened at Regal and Neelam but even before that the cinema owners were complaining of poor attendance and substantial losses. Two of them had already decided to wind up their businesses. Obviously, there was no question of any blackers appearing at a theatre”, said Nazir Ahmad Shah.
“Now that the first multiplex is beginning to show the Bollywood films in Srinagar from tomorrow (Friday, 30 September), the first day will decide about the future of cinema in Kashmir”, Shah said. According to him, this was “a completely changed time” and there was no room for ‘blackers’ as the tickets would be available only through the legitimate channels—proper counters or online. “I am sure the period of blackers has ended for good”, he added.

Updated On 9/30/2022 11:33:33 AM

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