Bollywood is planning to revive film shooting in the Kashmir Valley. Several big banner directors and producers, on a recent visit to Kashmir, expressed their longing to shoot more films in the beautiful valleys and meadows at regular intervals than before. But it is not going to be a cakewalk for multiple reasons.
Before 1989, the Hindi film industry had shot some hit films in the picturesque setting but a sharp decline was witnessed since, primarily due to the prevailing situation in the restive region. While the romantic movies did win some accolades from the locals, political films have always stirred controversies.
A 24-member delegation representing big banners of Bollywood had landed in Kashmir on January 27. With the aim to explore locations for film shooting, they visited different parts of Kashmir, including the tourist resort of Gulmarg in north Kashmir and Pahalgam valley in the south.
The top Bollywood producers and filmmakers described Kashmir as a “dream destination” for shooting.
Jammu and Kashmir Tourism officials told The Federal that the large group of Bollywood producers held a series of interactions with the local travel bodies, hospitality sector players and also artistes.
Producer Aashish Singh termed their visit to Kashmir “very fruitful” and promised that the film industry was determined to “revive film shooting in Kashmir to its old golden days.” “We had an amazing experience in Kashmir. We talked to every sector here associated with the tourism and film industry which has given us an insight about our new films. We will bring many film crews here to revive our old association with the Valley when many blockbusters were shot here,” Singh said.
Bollywood has shot memorable romantic dramas in Kashmir including Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Bobby (1973), and more recently, some popular films like 3 Idiots (2009), Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) and Haider (2014) etc.
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Haider was one of the rare films to be appreciated by large sections of film personalities, critics and movie buffs in Kashmir. In their appreciation, Haider was not “typical propaganda stuff” that Bollywood is often accused of producing when it comes to Kashmir.
While romantic movies have received praise from critics, those depicting Kashmir’s political and social milieu have been accused of prejudices and biases. Many commentators are of the view that Bollywood distorts Kashmir’s reality and its aspirations and often caricatures Kashmiris as unlettered, poor, and gullible.
For Bollywood films, says analyst Riyaz Ahmad, “a Kashmiri is always an unlettered Shikarawallah, wearing a skull cap or sporting beard or smoking hookah, while roving his boat in the Dal Lake. And this Kashmiri is ever grateful to the visiting tourist from mainland India who is benevolent and also gives a generous tip.”
This caricaturing, in the view of analysts like Riyaz, is problematic. The depiction of a Kashmiri man as a boatman or a radical gun-toting guerrilla and that of a Kashmiri woman as submissive and jobless is what Bollywood usually shows.
On its part, the J&K tourism department is trying hard to sell Kashmir as a dream destination. However, since Jammu and Kashmir lost its semi-autonomy and statehood in August 2019, tourist footfall has nosedived. Usually, around one million visitors including tourists and pilgrims would come annually to the region, but in the last 18 months only 84,000 tourists have visited Kashmir.
According to government data presented before the Upper House of Parliament, only 84,000 tourists have visited Kashmir since August 5, 2019. Union Tourism Minister Prahlad informed the Rajya Sabha, “The impact was felt more severely in Kashmir Valley than in Jammu division.”
“A total of 84,326 tourists visited Kashmir since August, 2019 while 87,94,837 visited Jammu and 1,00,931 tourists visited Ladakh,” according to data provided by the National Democratic Alliance-led central government.
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Local tourism officials in J&K claim the region had attracted a record of million plus tourists annually between 2011 to 2014. In 2015, 9,27,820 tourists visited the Valley and numbers have been declining since.
However, speaking to The Federal, deputy director of J&K tourism, Ahsan Chisti, said that “tourist footfall in Kashmir has been gradually increasing in the last six months or so. From September 2020 onwards, we witnessed a steady increase in the number of tourists visiting Kashmir.”
The J&K tourism department hopes Bollywood’s involvement will also play a role in showcasing Kashmir as a tourism destination.
Aashish Singh of Yash Raj banner said in Srinagar that he considers himself fortunate to be in Kashmir. “Beauty is for the camera. Kashmir’s scenic beauty is something magical that must be captured,” Singh said, adding that Jammu and Kashmir could become “shooting destination of the world if infrastructure was enhanced and improved.” He added that Bollywood’s connection with Kashmir is a very old one.
Nitin Ahuja, Chief Executive Officer of Producers Guild, assured that the film producers will “take on board local stakeholders and artistes and provide them ample opportunities during their (future) shoots in Kashmir.”
Mesmerised by the beauty of Kashmir, the producers said during their Kashmir visit that there was a possibility of making the region “an international film shooting destination.”
Ahuja said they want to revive old relations with Kashmir when it used to be the favourite backdrop for the filmmakers.
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“We visited several locations and found them absolutely stunning. We also got overwhelming responses from the locals. The food is also amazing. The place is a complete package,” he said.
The CEO of Ajay Devgn Ffilms, Meena Ayer, also showered praise on the beauty of Kashmir.
Popular chef and host of the cookery show ‘Khana Khazana’, Sanjeev Kapoor, said that Kashmir has the potential to be promoted for food tourism.
The delegation comprised representatives of Ajay Devgn Ffilms, Sanjay Dutt Productions, Reliance Entertainment, Rohit Shetty Films, Zee Studios, Adhikari Brothers & SAB (Marathi), Endemol, Rajkumar Hirani, Excel Entertainment, etc. besides representatives from the Producers Guild, Mumbai.
Director, J&K Tourism, Kashmir, Dr. G N Itoo said that the visit by top production houses from Bollywood has generated a “good response”.