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Sinha invites Bollywood to Kashmir for a big shoot

Bollywood celebrities invited to shoot in Jammu and Kashmir

Days after a series of visits to the valley by a number of the Bollywood actors and producers, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Sunday met a galaxy of the Bollywood celebrities in Mumbai and invited them for shooting and revival of the movie culture in Kashmir.

Officials in the LG’s entourage said that the interactive session at Hotel Santacruz drew a gathering of the actors, directors and producers who appeared to be tremendously keen to shoot their movies in the valley’s from the current year. They assured the LG full cooperation and partnership to revive the culture and atmosphere of the Bollywood film shooting which existed and flourished in Kashmir for 50 years from 1940 to 1990.

It was only after the outbreak of an armed insurgency that Bollywood bade goodbye to Kashmir and all the 18-odd theatres were closed down permanently on 31 August 1989. A light-and-sound show, made by Chetan Anand, Kamal Amrohi and others for the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) also pulled crowds for its evening shows at the historic Mughal garden, Shalimar Bagh, near Srinagar for several years in the 1980s.

In 1991-92, eminent South Indian filmmaker Mani Ratnam wanted to shoot his magnum opus Roja in Kashmir but highly disturbing circumstances forced him to shift to Coonoor and Ooty in Tamil Nadu and some locations resembling Kashmir in Manali, Himachal Pradesh.

Years later in 1998, Bollywood’s Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who was a permanent resident of Wazirbagh neighbourhood of Srinagar before 1990, shot his Bobby Deol-Shabana Raza starrer Kareeb at different places in Kashmir. In 1999-2000, Chopra shot many sequences of Mission Kashmir in the valley. Even the last best known Shikara – a love story running parallel to the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits and their traumatised living in exile—was also from none other than Chopra in 2019.

Over a dozen Bollywood and South Indian films, including Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, were shot in Kashmir in the last 31 years of turmoil but the aura of the halcyon days of 1950s to 1980s is still missing. Now the Union Territory government is making efforts at different levels to attract filmmakers, producers and artists for shooting in the valley.

During the course of the session, Ekta Kapoor recollected how she and her mother used to accompany her father Jeetendra on his shooting schedules in the pre-1990 years in Kashmir.

Mission Kashmir focussed on that ugly side of Kashmir which everyone would wish away as a horrific dream. Bollywood missed Kashmir all these years. Of course, an occasional Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or Jab Tak Hai Jaan or Raazi or Fitoor or Aiyaary or Bajrangi Bhaijaan or Haider or Highway were shot there but shootings in the valley were few and far between. And unlike the super-hit song from Aandhi, those who have not been able to shoot in the picturesque valleys of the region in the last over two decades are apt to sing, Tere bina zindagi se shikwa toh nahi!

Well, all that may soon be a thing of the past. For, Kashmir may very soon be hosting film units once again after being almost wiped out from the wish list of producers for more than twenty years.

Ekta recalled, “I have very fond childhood memories of Kashmir as at least a fortnight every summer had to be spent there. My dad’s (Jeetendra) films used to be regularly shot there and so it was almost mandatory for the family to spend a part of the summer vacations with dad there. The fact that we are sitting here with you, discussing the possibility of shooting in Kashmir, gives me immense joy.”

Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, whose Laila Majnu (2018) was among the very few Bollywood films to be shot in Kashmir in the new millennium, described his experience in the valley was fantastic. He said he was ecstatic that it would be possible to shoot in Kashmir in a very safe atmosphere. He told Sinha that the people of Kashmir were very cooperative, adding to the energy level of the crews.

Producer Dinesh Vijan requested Sinha to formulate a policy for producers, based on the policies of some other state governments in India or Overseas countries like the UK.

Director Nitesh Tiwari recalled how students of advertising at a film school in Gulmarg used to assist ad filmmakers like him and also doubled up as production hands when he used to make ad films.

Trade analyst Komal Nahta emphasised: “There’s no greater potent medium than films to influence the public and revive their confidence in the safety of Kashmir as a tourist spot”.

Vijan suggested the UT government ask some well-known Bollywood filmmakers to make short films of 30-50 minutes duration, highlighting different aspects of Kashmir so that people’s faith in the region got a major boost.

Nitesh Tiwari suggested that a dedicated website be made to give producers and directors a feel of the real Kashmir today — its streets, houses, balconies in the houses, surroundings available, etc. “This will help the filmmakers decide what all can be shot in the region,” he asserted.

Imtiaz Ali added, “Rather than just shooting a stand-alone song in Kashmir, we have to make our characters belong to Kashmir. That’s when Kashmir will become an integral part of that film”.

Karan Johar and Rohit Shetty spoke to Sinha over the telephone and assured him that they would be more than happy to shoot in the region.

Dinesh Vijan and Ekta Kapoor requested Sinha to make the atmosphere very conducive for shootings. “If you take good care of us, Sir, we will be more than happy to shoot there.” Vijan also emphasised on the need to have a subsidy scheme in place to lure Bollywood producers to Kashmir.

Nitesh Tiwari sounded optimistic when he assured Sinha, “Not just Bollywood producers, you will have a lot of ad filmmakers too coming to shoot in Kashmir.” All the producers and directors present at the meeting insisted that there should be a single-window clearance system so that film units could plan and execute their shootings smoothly and without waste of time and red tape.

Officials said that the UT government was also planning to set up multiplex theatres for the entertainment of the local population at some mega shopping malls which would be constructed and maintained in a secure atmosphere around the summer capital of Srinagar. “Large numbers of the valley’s youths do currently go to Jammu and Delhi to see a film at the theatre. We hope we will get them back to a big entertainment industry in the next two years”, said a senior official.