As a high-profile meeting of tourism ministers from Group of 20 nations ended in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Wednesday, local officials said they hoped the attention would lead to more business for the local tourism and film industries.
The G20 consists of 19 of the world’s biggest economies plus the European Union.
Kashmir reported record tourism last year, with 18 million visitors who sought out the region’s diverse landscapes, lakes and snow-capped Himalayan peaks.
Local officials, however, see a brighter future in revising the region’s film industry.
Sameer Kaul, a leader of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, a regional political party, said the industry would be helped in part by loosening up the region’s heavy security.
Speaking to VOA, Kaul said, “We shall have to go beyond political tokenism and facilitate the creation of hospitality infrastructure, supporting human resources and involve the local population as opposed to restricting their movement and forcing them to stay homebound every time an event of any kind is held here.”
Starting in the 1960s, the region was a favored location for India’s widely popular Bollywood movies.
That largely ended three decades ago when political unrest in Kashmir suspended most film shoots. According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, a privately owned economic research group in Mumbai, Jammu and Kashmir now has the third-highest unemployment in India, with an alarming 23.1% rate.
Economy revived by film?
In 2021, the government of Jammu and Kashmir rolled out a five-year plan to try to boost the local film industry, but locals are critical.
Ayash Arif, a 60-year-old artist with decades of experience in the industry, said the current policy promoting the film industry is not working.
“The policy has not been implemented and is not functioning. We don’t know anything about it," Arif said. "There is no film council, as is mentioned in the policy.”
According to Arif, regional cinema needs to be developed to provide maximum employment to the locals. “We need soft loans from the government and associated agencies to produce a maximum number of regional films that will provide jobs to locals.”
Sushil Chaudhary, the founder of mobile cinema operator Picture Time DigiPlex, said to bring back the past glory of the region’s film industry, government help is necessary.
“I hope to see G20 policymakers do some miracle to bring back the happy times,” Chaudhary said.
Bilal A. Jan, an award-winning filmmaker from Srinagar, told VOA that filmmakers need funding that must finance both fiction and nonfiction films in different regional languages.
Apurva Chandra, secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said during the meeting that more than 404 films, TV soap operas and advertisements were permitted for shooting in Srinagar.
A handicraft trader, Irfan Hamdani, told VOA that rather than showing off Kashmir as an example of stability and normalcy in the region, the government should focus on addressing the area’s burgeoning unemployment problems.
Fifty-three foreign delegates, including 46 from G20 and specially invited countries, along with seven representatives from multilateral organizations, participated in the tourism meeting in Srinagar. China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and special invitee Egypt chose not to attend.