With the closure of internet, one of the key sectors that suffered severely in a highly stressed society was the entertainment. Understanding the emerging requirement, a middle aged man resurrected his ailing business to fill the void by selling content from his huge cache that he had evolved in last 30 years, reports Saima Bhat
On August 5, when Delhi scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and downgraded the state into two union territories, life came to an abrupt halt. Strict restrictions apart, communication blockade was crippling. Four months later, internet still continues to be blocked.
Shops used to open for a few hours in evenings to enable people to buy essential commodities. One shop, Emm Bee, located in Srinagar’s uptown Baghat belt, however, would remain open throughout the day. People used to come individually or in groups carrying their otherwise useless smart phones and the pen drives.
After waiting in queue, these visitors would handover these gadgets to the shop owner, who would write Content from his computer over them. The shop-owner, wants to be identified as Ahmad, his second name. The hoarding on Ahmad’s shop reads he is dealing with cinematography, video shooting, photography, movies, gaming, mobile phones, mobile accessories and allied things. After August 5, however, he is known for the distribution of Content mostly the TV and web series, the only source of entertainment to the urban youth.
“After the clampdown on all sources of communication, people have nothing to do. Every employer and employee had suddenly nothing to do,” Ahmad said. “To ease their mental burden they needed something for entertainment, for which they would visit me,” said Ahmad. Perhaps he is the only person who knows the trends in entertainment. His permanent clientele has exceeded 200.
Kashmir has remained an entertainment starved society especially after the cinema halls were closed in 1990’s when conflict engulfed the region. Since then, people used to watch movies on their TVs using movies on video cassettes or CDs.
Ahmad understands the requirement of entertainment at a place like Kashmir where people remain mostly stressed due to the situation and are reduced idle in situations of unrest and turmoil. “Most of the Kashmiris are mentally depressed. To divert our minds, we watch entertainment and Kashmir is the place where such things are consumed at highest rates,” said Ahmad. He was recently shocked by the visit of a teenage boy who instead of videos asked him if he has wape, a vaporised cigarette, in his stock!
“Ideally, he should have either asked for a bat or a game but we can’t do anything,” Ahmad regretted. “This shows we are all depressed. If our children ask for permission to play outside, their parents don’t allow them because we are not sure if they will not be harmed.”
Ahmad’s shop started in 1989, the same year when his father died of kidney failure. Being the eldest the responsibility of running the family became his responsibility. Then 17, a ninth class student, Ahmad said he had seen a shop in Lal Chowk selling movies and he wished to do same while continuing his studies.
Initially, he started with selling VHS cassettes. Due to the technology change the VHS, after six years, got upgraded to VCDs and after six more years, they were upgraded to DVDs. Then the internet reached common masses and they started watching movies online.
It went a step further as Reliance launched its Jio services in Kashmir. Ahmad said it impacted his business by 60 percent. “Everybody had internet in his pocket and they used to provide high speed internet so watching videos online was no big deal,” Ahmad said. “Later with the arrival of Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime my work has suffered even more, by an additional 30 percent.”
After August 5, Ahmad said all these technology upgrades got grounded. All his clients – he terms them as his friends, returned back to him.
Ahmad has a permanent government job but given his busy schedule at the shop, he is on leave for the last four months. Interestingly, few days ahead of August 5, Ahmad was planning to close down his shop because of low business.
“These days everyone says how the internet shutdown impacted their work but I’ll gladly say it revived my business,” Ahmad said. “I may wish it should continue.” Ahmad opens his shop at 9 am and closes it by 11 pm.
In the last 30 years, while Ahmad played with a series of communication technologies, he has created a huge Content base – all the latest TV series, soup operas, web series, videos, dramas and movies. “You name it, I have it,” he quipped confidently. For the latest Content after August 5, however, he had to call his friend in Delhi and read him the list on phone. His friend would download the Content and send him the Content by air.
“It is not possible every time that my friends will have time to help me so I had to send my son twice to Delhi so that he could get the latest Content,” Ahmad said. “He got me Content of around 400 GBs.”
What people watch actually? Based on the taste of his customers, Ahmad asserts Kashmiris have different taste for entertainment.
“They are not watching Bollywood but they watch high rated TV series, mostly in English. People prefer them because they are lengthy, have good quality and develop curiosity. These days Jack Rayn, Game of Thrones, River Dale, and Crown are trending.” Ahmad said. Around 80 of his customers watch English TV series but all of his clients have become fans for the Turkish five season series Ertugrul. The Drills Ertugrul is a period drama surrounded around the life and times of Osman’s father, the Turk who founded the Ottoman Empire.
Ahmad puts in a lot of efforts and is paid. For a TV series, he charges Rs 100 a season, Rs 25 for every movie, but Rs 500 for every season of Ertugrul. “It is a huge Content,” he said.
One of his friends, also a government employee, is on leave for the last one month. He has taken this off exclusively to watch the Turkish serial! “I called him yesterday to know if he was fine because he did not come to meet me,” Ahmad said. “I was surprised when he said he is home and watching the series back to back while taking his meals in front of his TV.”
“Last month all of my customers were only asking for Ertugrul. After watching it they came back and asked for next season. The craze was so huge that I even saw Ertugrul in my dream. Kashmiris watch such things related to faith,” Ahmad said. “They rarely watch the Iranian stuff.”
Ahmad said Umar and Yusuf, two Arabian language series also did good business in Kashmir. And amongst Iranian productions, Kashmiris only like Majid Majidis movies because they come with a message.
During the recent crisis when the movement of people was almost impossible, Emm Bee had visitors from across Srinagar including Soura, Eidgah, Safa Kadal, Khanyar and even from Budgam and Shopian districts.
The customers used to come on a scooty or cycle or even walking. Two of his customers came from Anchaar area in Soura in August itself at a time when the area was being reported by all the global media. “I was also surprised how they came from Anchaar, which was most volatile during the crisis,” Ahmad said. “They told me they crossed most of the distance on foot, seeking lift from the cars and two-wheelers. They sought some Content which will take them at least 20 days to watch. Coming frequently was not possible for them,” said Ahmad.
Of his 200 fixed customers, Ahmad said almost 70 came to him post August 5. These included students and established businessmen.
Content apart, Ahmad saw a surge for pen drives post-August 5. As the pen drives faded from the market, Ahmad bulk purchased 250 drives from Budgam for an extra cost of Rs 150. The stock was exhausted in three days. “Most of the pen drives were taken by parents, who were informed by the school authorities to take assignments. Those days most of the elite schools were over charging and selling pen drives for double the cost. Then I called my friend in Delhi again and he sent me a stock of 800 drives, 300 of 16 GBs, 200 of 64 GBs and 300 of 32 GBs. In just one week this stock was also over with a profit margin of Rs 70 per piece,” Ahmad said. He has sold around 20 hard discs with a Content from 500 to 700 GBs for Rs 15000, each.
Since 1990, Ahmad said he has never closed his shop even when some people with guns threatened him. “I told them plainly that this shop keeps my hearth going,” he said. “They understood my crisis and never came back.” At the same time, Ahmad would ensure the quality of the Content. He doesn’t get into the worst part of entertainment.
To manage the huge rush in late August, September and October, Ahmad made two additional laptops operational with the help of his son and one of his friend.
Ahmad is passionate about his work and that is the reason he prefers to be at his shop these days, rather than in his office. Otherwise, the shop could easily be managed by his salesman. “Nobody else could have managed the rush during these months. So I preferred to work myself because I cannot afford to dissatisfy my customers,” Ahmad said.
Interestingly, not far away from Ahmad’s facility, there are two more shops MB and Oscar, in the same business. Both these shops are owned by Ahmad’s two brothers and both of them refused to talk to Kashmir Life. “We have always suffered because of these movies. I don’t want to talk about this work,” said one of the two.