Bollywood is back in Kashmir

As situation improves, the Indian film industry looks to revive its old ties to the Valley, reports Riyaz Wani

In January, as the Valley witnessed successive heavy snowfalls and the temperature plunged to a maximum of minus 8.8 in Srinagar, Bollywood banners arrived in Kashmir to explore prospects of shooting movies.

On January 29, a 24-member Bollywood delegation arrived in the Valley on a four day visit. It included director Rajkumar Hirani, members of the Ajay Devgun Films, the Sanjay Dutt Productions, the Reliance Entertainment, the Rohit Shetty Films, the Zee Studios, the Adhikari Brothers & SAB (Marathi), the Endemol, and the Excel Entertainment. The delegation also had the representatives from the Producers Guild, Mumbai. 

Interacting with media in Srinagar, the members of the delegation praised the beauty of Kashmir, saying the place can be an International film shooting destination.

“Kashmir is ideal for film shoots,” said the film producer Aashish Singh who has earlier shot Shahrukh Khan starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan in Kashmir. “There is just so much potential here for filmmaking. The film makers from around the world can shoot here.”

Meena Ayer, the Chief Executive Officer of Ajay Devgan Productions said the Bollywood must return to Kashmir and tap its potential as a backdrop for the movies. “We need to tap the potential of Kashmir for film tourism,” Ayer said.

 Similarly, the CEO of Producers Guild Nitin Ahuja said they want to revive old ties with Kashmir. “Kashmir used to be the favourite backdrop for Bollywood films in sixties and seventies. We want to come back,” Ahuja said.

The members of the delegation also talked about visiting several locations across the Valley and finding them “absolutely stunning”. They also  were all praise for the hospitality of the  local people and also the local food.

“The place is a complete package,” Ahuja said.

Earlier in January, Bollywood actress Garima Goel was in the Valley with the team of Netflix for the recce of a shoot. Talking to media she termed Kashmir “a perfect destination” for the film shoots.

Already, January has witnessed many music videos being shot in the Valley. First it was music composer Salim Merchant who shot their upcoming song ‘Tumhe dekh ke’ in Kashmir. The team carried out their work in sub-zero temperature. The composers worked with the local technicians only, they told media later.

Similarly, the singer-composer Jigar Saraiya shot his latest song Heera in Kashmir featuring actress Shriya Pilgaonkar. The team also worked with the local crew only.

Actress Mrunal Thakur and singer Guru Randhawa also shot their latest music video titled Abhi na Chhodho Mujhe in Kashmir. Mrunal later described her experience of shooting in the Valley as “surreal” and “enchanting”.

Recently, the rapper Badshah and the former Big Boss contestant Shehnaz Gill were in Kashmir shooting for a music video. The video expected to be a typical Badshah rap is likely to be released by the end of February. Gill who has donned a Kashmiri look for the shoot later shared many pictures on her Instagram account.

Besides music videos, films are also being shot in Kashmir. The film maker Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri recently wrapped up shooting for his upcoming film The Kashmir Files. While in Kashmir, Agnihotri started a controversy after he tweeted a picture of him serving what he called “vegetarian wazwan” to his crew at a Srinagar hotel. People in the Valley saw it as a bid to interfere with local traditions. The film maker later deleted the tweet.

The people associated with tourism industry have welcomed the return of Bollywood shoots in Kashmir. In the sixties, Kashmir was the backdrop for the famous films like Junglee, Kashmir Ki Kali and Jab Jab Phool Khile. There were also scores of other movies that were shot in the Valley in seventies and eighties which featured the superstars like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachhan.

But by the time Shahrukh Khan emerged on the scene in early nineties, Kashmir had already become one of the world’s most dangerous places. Movies continued to be made on Kashmir but outside Kashmir. For Mani Ratnam’s Roja, Kashmir was no longer the paradise but a subject; it’s locales no longer evoked romance and mystique but fear. Only three movies were shot in Valley between 1998 and 2003. After 2003, a succession of Kashmir-centric movies were made with focus on terrorism, Pakistan and the conflict in the state, some of which are LoC Kargil, Maa Tujhhe Salaam, Mission Kashmir, Yahaan, Fanaa and Tahaan.

Over the last some years, films lije Raazi, Highway, and Bajrangi Bhaijaan were shot in the Valley.

Similarly Shahrukh Khan shot Jab Tak Hai Jaan in 2012. SRK, as his fans call him, shot at the lush locales of Aru, a hill station to the north of Pahalgam. “Dark clouds…wet roads…too early for even life to feel alive…but i am on way to make movies. A cigarette and coffee as co travellers,” he had then tweeted.

At the time hardly any Bollywood film was made in Kashmir. Tourism was also down because of the adverse international travel advisories. But Shahrukh Khan’s shooting came as a  boost for the tourism industry.  Before SRK’s movie, Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Rockstar was extensively shot in Pahalgam. The Kapoor scion’s arrival to the Valley along with Nargis Fakhri, evoked memories of Bollywood’s first brush with Kashmir. It was Raj Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor’s grandfather, who in 1949 shot Barsaat in the Valley and made it a popular destination for Bollywood. And the film had Raj Kapoor and Nargis as the lead pair.

The films like Rockstar and Jab Tak Hai Jaan once again showcased Kashmir as a romantic destination after a spate of movies like Mission Kashmir that focused on the ongoing conflict. Bollywood started returning to the Valley for a tried and tested reason: to feast the camera on Kashmir’s breathtaking locales. The film industry is once again using the Valley as a backdrop to shoot romantic movies. Film crews are heading to Pahalgam and Gulmarg, the tourist resorts where numerous movies have been shot in the past. Kashmir is once again sought after for its scenic beauty rather than as a peg for the shrill jingoistic narratives.

One reason for Bollywood’s return to Kashmir is the continuing ban on international travel that is forcing Bollywood film makers and the tourists to flock to the former state. This has led to a spike in the number of tourists visiting the Valley.

“We believe Kashmir will remain the favourite destination for the tourists and Bollywood after international travel resumes,” said Nasir Shah, a senior tour and travel operator in Kashmir. “Kashmir stands on its own merit”.

Director of Tourism Department in Kashmir, G.N. Itoo is hopeful that the situation from hereon will only improve.

“The top film makers have visited various locations in the Valley,” Itoo said. “We are receiving good response from the top Bollywood production houses since the reopening of the tourism. Besides there are regional entertainment houses who are shooting song sequences and commercial advertisements”.