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Bollywood ready to say “Yahooo” again in Kashmir

Bollywood ready to say “Yahooo” again in Kashmir

<u></u>When I was growing up, Kashmir was synonymous with images evoked in blockbusters like <em>Kashmir Ki Kali</em> and <em>Junglee</em> and also in haunting melodies like …<em>these beautiful valleys, these open skies</em>.

This was Kashmir as a land of beauty and infinite possibility. <em>Yeh Chand Sa Roshan Chehra</em> the evergreen and peppy song from Shammi Kapoor’s and Sharmila Tagore’s <em>Kashmir Ki Kali</em> was shot on the backdrop of Dal Lake or <em>Yahhoooo,</em> <em>Chahe Koi Mujhe Jungali Kahe</em>, another of those quintessential Shammi Kapoor’s film—<em>Junglee</em>. Kashmir is portrayed at its prettiest with snow, mountains, and the Mughal Gardens in the background. There were other films, like <em>Jab Jab Phool Khile</em> (1965), <em>Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hoon</em> (1963), <em>Aap Ki Kasam</em> (1974), <em>Roti</em> (1974) and many more, that etched in one’s mind the picture of a veritable fantasy land for those of us growing up in other parts of India.

And then there was Yash Chopra’s love affair with Kashmir that continued for the best part of a decade in the late '70s and early '80s, with blockbusters like <em>Kabhi Kabhie</em> (1976), <em>Noorie</em> (1979), <em>Silsila</em> (1981) and many more. Kashmir has always been used to showcase its beauty. It has always been used as an integral part of the narrative of Indian cinema. The beauty and landscape have been used to enhance beautification of the Valley. Yes, Bollywood romance and beauty of Kashmir were synonymous in the 1960s and 70s.

Kashmir, is not just a tourist destination but a shooting location too. Most of the evergreen romantic numbers in the Bollywood albums of the golden era of Indian cinema were picturized on the blissful moments of love in the snow-clad and lush green locales of Jammu &amp; Kashmir, in different seasons of the year.  The trend continued till insurgency washed over the state. All of this was before 1990, of course.

It was January 1990, when I landed in Srinagar as a journalist. The newly appointed VP Singh government succumbed to the JKLF terrorists demands who had kidnapped Rubaiya Saeed, daughter of the newly appointed Home Minister of India Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

The Central Govt had to release five militants—Abdul Hamid Sheikh, Sher Khan (a Pakistani), Noor Mohammad Kalwal, Altaf Ahmed and Javed Ahmed Jargar for the safe return of Rubaiya Saeed. This emboldened terrorists and soon hotels, restaurants, cinema halls, schools and colleges were shut. Women were told to be in burqas. It was like a Taliban regime in the Valley.

The transformation of Kashmir from the silken era of films to rule by guns and terror was surrealistic.  All the ten iconic cinema halls, including Firdaus, Shiraz, Khayam, Naaz, Neelam, Shah, Broadway, Regal and Palladium, were shut down on diktats issued by terrorist groups. Curtains were drawn on filming in the Valley. Muzzafar Ali, the famous director of <em>Umrao Jaan</em> had to cancel shooting of Zooni—a Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia starrer. <em>Zooni</em>, which was eventually shelved by Ali in 1987 was focusing on the life and times of Habba Khatoon–a famous Kashmiri poetess and queen, who married Yusuf Shah Chak, the last ruler of independent Kashmir. Chak was dethroned by Mughal emperor, Akbar and subsequently banished. He died in Bihar where he is buried in Biswak.

<em>Zooni</em> was first such attempt to project Kashmir and its history, politics and culture. “It is a tragedy for me. Sadly, we could not complete the movie for varied reasons, the main being the militancy that broke out in Kashmir,” said Ali.

Subsequently, the Hindi film industry found its ‘Kashmir’ in Manali, Switzerland and other countries. It shifted outdoor shoots to Europe and America. Post 1999, when violence began to wane, Bollywood like a smitten lover, rebounded to its old love. Though a few films were shot under heavy security, cinema halls remained closed. Ironically, many Bollywood blockbusters have been shot in Kashmir and received global admiration, but the people of Kashmir are yet to see them on 70 mm.

Later in 1999, the government of erstwhile state J&amp;K tried to reopen theatres and three Srinagar halls – Regal, Neelam and Broadway – started operations. But with their opening, the terrorists launched an attack and a viewer was killed and 12 others injured during the first show at Regal Cinema. Now, many old theatres in Kashmir either are makeshift camps for security forces or have been converted into hospitals.

State governments in J&amp;K did try to revive the cinema theatres but separatist leaders like Geelani and others opposed it. Kashmiri youngsters, especially those who were born in and after the 1980s have never seen a movie in a cinema hall, except those who travel outside Kashmir. Despite this virtual ban on films, the reality is that Kashmiris love Bollywood films and enjoy them courtesy satellite television and, at times, piracy.

In 2014, PM Narendra Modi, then a prime ministerial candidate, said “Our film industry was mad after Kashmir. Any film that did not feature Kashmir would not sell. They left Kashmir for New Zealand and other places. I have to bring them back. There should be film shootings again in these valleys and the world should get to see this place again.”

Modi also stressed that he wanted the state to become a big tourist destination. Although the Mehbooba Mufti-led government was in favour of reopening cinemas, Hurriyat leader Geelani opposed the move, arguing that cinemas can’t be opened as a sign of normalcy; this is no right time to open them.

“Today, our children who are 20-30 years old have not seen any films in the city. We have denied them this privilege,” former Public Works Minister Nayeem Akhtar said in Srinagar, in November 2017.

He added that he failed to understand why the people of Kashmir could feel negative about cinema halls, despite the existence of cinema across the globe. “There are cinemas across the world. Even Pakistan has them — Saudi Arabia is opening theatres in Riyadh. I don’t know why people feel so negative about cinemas here?” Akhtar wondered.

Referring to television, he said, “Television in itself is a form of cinema. Your mobile phone in your pocket is also a cinema—I don’t know why we are being barred from going into cinema halls… our government would definitely take steps towards restoration of cinema halls in Kashmir.”

Last year the Central Government repealed Article 370 and soon after in his address to the nation on August 8, 2019, Prime Minister Modi said the glorious cinematic days will return to J&amp;K once normalcy is restored in the state after new steps taken by his government. "There was a time when Kashmir was the favourite destination of Bollywood filmmakers. There was hardly any film that wasn't shot in Kashmir at that time," he said in his address to the nation. Modi also outlined plans for peace and development in the region.

He added that J&amp;K and Ladakh have the potential to be global tourist hubs and urged the film industry to come and invest in the two union territories. "Once normalcy in Kashmir is restored I am confident that in future even international films will be shot there," he said.

Highlighting that filmmaking will help in providing employment opportunities to the locals, Modi also urged the Indian cinema industry to look at creating entertainment infrastructure and opening new theatres.

In less than a week, Bollywood producers were reportedly registering film titles relating to Kashmir. Over 50 titles have been registered so far and according to film magazine editor Atul Mohan directors are keen on nationalist titles including <em>Article 370 Abolished</em>, <em>Kashmir Mein Tiranga</em> (Kashmir in Tricolor), and <em>Kashmir Hamara Hai</em> (Kashmir Is Ours). If these film titles are realized it will signal an interesting turn in the evolution of Bollywood’s representation of Kashmir and Kashmiri people. Filming in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is the only way of restoring normalcy, he said and assured the local people that their problems will gradually go away.

With the strength of terrorists enervating in Kashmir, the revival of big screens in the Valley seems likely in the near future. A three-storey multiplex will soon come up in Srinagar, the first of its kind in Kashmir, which will allow Kashmiris to enjoy Bollywood films on the big screen. The multi-screen movie theatre is likely to start its operations by March next year. It will be after more than 20 years that a movie will be played on a big screen in the Valley.

People associated with filmmaking have welcomed the move and said Kashmir needs such facilities. "I welcome the move. Kashmir needs this type of facilities, it can bring Bollywood back to Kashmir as most of the Bollywood films are shot in Kashmir, Bollywood has decades-old relation with Kashmir," Kashmiri filmmaker Mushtaq Ali said.  “I am waiting for it to open and I will be the first to see the show."

The UT govt also trying to revive the J&amp;K’s own film industry which could not grow because of the militancy. The scant efforts at film production have resulted in movies about Kashmir’s political history and social issues.

The Kashmiri film industry has had a promising start. The first Kashmiri movie <em>Manziraat</em> (Henna ceremony) was released in 1964 and screened at a theatre in the main city of Kashmir. It was well received at the box office and even won the President’s Award for the best regional film in Kashmir. It was followed by <em>Shayar-e-Kashmir Mehjoor</em> (Poet of Kashmir Mehjoor), a joint venture of the Kashmir Department of Information and Bollywood filmmakers, shot in both the Urdu and the Kashmiri language.

Since the release of <em>Mehjoor</em> nearly 45 years ago, film making in Kashmir has stagnated. No feature film has been produced since then, except for the 2001 movie <em>Bub</em> (Father) directed by Jyoti Sarup, which won the National Film Award. <em>Bub</em>, though, was shown only in the theatres of Jammu, never screened in Kashmir. Now, the people of Kashmir are pinning their hopes on the day when they won’t  have to undertake a tiresome journey of 300 km to the state’s winter capital Jammu to see their  favourite cine stars bring alive human dreams and emotions on the silver screen.

Kashmiris love Bollywood films and enjoy them courtesy satellite television and even piracy. After three decades, there is a sliver of hope that Kashmiri youth, especially those born in the 80s will live their dreams on the big screen..