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Aamir Khan leads Bollywood’s return to Kashmir as winds of change blow across valley

Poster of Laal Singh Chaddha which Aamir Khan shot extensively in Leh and Kargil

Before the eruption of militancy in 1989, Kashmir virtually used to be the second home of a large number of the Bollywood producers. Javaid Budgami, who played a child role in Balraj Sahni’s film on Kashmir’s iconic poet Mehjoor in 1970, believes that the number of the Indian movies shot in Kashmir would be more than 1,000.

Everything that sought to project Kashmir as ‘normal’ had become taboo in Kashmir’s political and intellectual landscape.  As everybody feared for life in the valley of guns and grenades that determined and controlled the political narratives, no literary festival or shooting of films was possible in Kashmir in recent years.

But the winds of change have started blowing across the valley with the return to stability. 

On Thursday, July 29, Aamir Khan, whose Kashmir discovery Zaira Waseem has quit films and now faded into oblivion, appeared at Amar Singh College, a cluster of heritage buildings at Gogji Bagh in Srinagar. Even as no repairs or renovations are usually possible without the permission of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Khan’s men are busy at a large scale in recreating classrooms for Laal Singh Chaddha—an Indian adaptation of the famous 1994 American drama film ‘Forrest Gump’ directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Eric Roth.

The college whose students in 2018 destroyed dozens of shopping malls and restaurants in stone pelting provided a sharp contrast as hundreds of youths had gathered to have a look of the actor-producer of the famous films like Lagaan, 3 Idiots and Dangal, in which Zaira Waseem debuted in 2016.

Aamir Khan has completed his dream project’s extensive shooting schedules in Leh and Kargil and he is now creating a college ambience for Laal Singh Chaddha in Srinagar. Filmed at more than 100 Indian locations, LSC is an upcoming Indian comedy-drama directed by Advait Chandan from a screenplay written by Eric Roth and Atul Kulkarni. The film is produced by Aamir Khan Productions, Viacom18 Studios and Paramount Pictures.

Working on the film for about 10 years, Aamir Khan was forced to cancel his shooting schedules due to Covid-19 and also because of the India-China standoff along Galwan valley in Ladakh in July 2020.

Khan was present with LSC’s producer and ex-wife Kiran Rao when Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha unveiled J&K’s first film policy at SKICC in Srinagar on 5 August—coincidentally the 2nd anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370.

Recalling the golden days of the past, retired officer Mohammad Ismail says,  “At most of the 15 theatres in Srinagar, there used to be huge crowds of Kashmiris eagerly waiting for the films of iconic actors like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Madhubala, Nargis, Meena Kumari, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Rekha. “Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Sadhana hairstyles were very  popular in Kashmir. Some of the valley’s 18 theatres like Broadway, Palladium and Regal, would also screen Hollywood movies in one of their four shows daily.”

The government has worked out J&K Film Policy-2021 to facilitate the overall growth of the film industry in the Union Territory; setting up of Jammu & Kashmir Film Development Council; providing hands-on access to website for talent pool and all shooting destinations; development of shooting locales, infrastructure for film screening; revival of closed cinema halls; upgradation of existing cinema halls; encouraging setting up of multiplexes and cinema halls; destination marketing for J&K; organizing J&K Film festival, besides restoration and preservation of the J&K films.

Also Read: 'Kashmir Has Turned A New Leaf' Says President Ramnath Kovind During Kashmir University Address | Naya Jammu & Kashmir