Utpal Borpujari

September 29, 2008

Shooting in J&K: Indian cinema’s love affair with the Valley

By Utpal Borpujari

The opening shot of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir probably depicted in the best way how the ties between Bollywood and the trouble-torn state snapped. As the screen lights up, we see the picutre postcard image of a shikara on an idyllic Dal lake – and then, suddenly, the shikara explodes, shattering the calmness.

Hindi films, as also some from southern India, have had alwasys captured Kashmir’s “heaven on earth” image – chinar-clad dales, rosy-cheeked dames, snowy-white mountains, et al.

In the 1960s, Kashmir was the place which the camera would instantly zoom onto as soon as the hero and the heroine felt like running around the trees and singing a ditty.

The highly-energetic Shammi Kapoor, whose “Yahoo” as he slid down the snowy slopes in Junglee (1961) created many a clone in the subsequent years – take Joy Mukherjee for example – whose films with similar love stories would be shot in Kashmir.

Sharmila Tagore, discovered by the great Satyajit Ray, got instant nationwide fame as the Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), as she played the innocent Kashmiri girl role to the hilt. Films like Jaanwar, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon and Aarzoo reflected the fascination of filmmakers for Kashmir’s natural beauty, and countless filmmakers since then shot their films in the state.

But as militancy started in 1989, everything changed. For long years, nobody ventured into Kashmir to shoot a film, even if the storyline was based there. The most glaring example of this is Mani Ratnam’s superhit Tamil film Roja, which became an even bigger money-spinner when it got dubbed into Hindi. The film’s storyline emerges out of the situation in Kashmir, but not a single shot was taken there. Instead, Ratnam chose to shoot almost the entire film in Manali area of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

In fact, with the rise of militancy, not many filmmakers thought of even venturing near the state, preferring to rather follow the footsteps of Yash Chopra to shoot their songs and scenes in European and other exotic locales. And a few films with Kashmir as the backdrop, continued to be shot in other locations – Jahnu Barua’s under-production Butterfly Chase in Sikkim and Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa in far, far away Poland.

But now, some filmmakers have started returning, though they are no more depicting the innocent charm of the state. One way or the other, these films are to various degrees reflecting the current scenario of the state. Shoojit Sircar’s Yahan is an example of this. Though a mainstream film, it provided a realistic depiction of the situation there.

Other films partly shot in Kashmir include Chopra’s Mission Kashmir and Sanjiv Puri’s Agnipankh which had around 60 per cent of it shot in the state. From the South, Mohanlal-starrer Keerthi Chakra, a Malayalam and Tamil bilingual directed by former Army man Major Ravi, has been shot in Kashmir in recent years, as also the Kannada film Chaitrada Chandrama produced by Bhagyawathi Narayan.

Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan is a rare film which has been almost entirely shot in the state after a long gap, though he did not shoot it exactly in the Kashmir Valley, choosing Pahalgam in the larger Jammu region. Quite clearly, even though the J&K government website assures one that “Mumbai and Southern film shooting resumed in Kashmir, cinema business resumed in Srinagar”, filmmakers in general are not yet confident enough to return to there.

For the record, though the state government is making its best efforts to get the film shooting teams return to Kashmir, even hosting high-profile teams of producers and directors from Mumbai, only a few have actually shot their films there.

(An abridged version was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 07-09-2008)

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