SRINAGAR, India - The first Pakistani film to be screened in India in nearly 40 years has opened in the main city of Indian Kashmir, a cultural milestone for a region beset by a Muslim insurgency and border disputes.
The film generated interest across the country when it opened in April, and movie operators hoped the story examining militant Islam would draw crowds to the only operating theater in Srinagar, the biggest city in India's only Muslim-majority state.
"I've heard a lot about this Pakistani film and I wanted to watch it," said Shakeel Ahmed, 25, who saw the movie Friday, the day it opened.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. Each claims all of the Himalayan territory, and they have fought two wars over control of it since their independence from Britain in 1947.
The film, called "Khuda Kay Liye" (In the Name of God), was a record-breaking hit in Pakistan last year. The story centers on a young man drawn to militant Islam and his more liberal brother who moves to the United States and marries an American.
Despite the novelty of a Pakistani film and the cultural resonance of the plot, the movie is unlikely to sell out in Srinagar, a city where even movie theaters are fraught with political weight and violent history.
When the Muslim insurgency fighting for a separate homeland or a merger with Pakistan was at its strongest in the early 1990s, rebel groups shut down liquor stores, bars and any other establishment they saw as anti-Islamic or pro-Indian - movie theaters included. Srinigar's eight theaters were converted into makeshift army camps and detention centers where witnesses say torture was commonplace.
The Neelam Cinema reopened in 1999 as part of the authorities' attempt to bring life back to normal in Kashmir.
Crowds have been slow to return. Only 15 people came to see the first screening of "Khuda Kay Liye" on Friday.
"It's disappointing," said Noor Mohammad, the cinema's manager. "Earlier days the traffic would jam outside for an average film."
Officials have started organizing other cultural events in Kashmir. Last month, in an unprecedented concert, a Pakistani rock band performed before thousands in Srinagar in a night dubbed by organizers as an "investment in the peace."
A peace process launched in 2004 has raised hopes, but the nations have yet to find a breakthrough in the decades-old Kashmir dispute. *