“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Kashmir again emerges as Bollywood’s popular shooting attraction
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

(Mr. Fayyaz, 47, was born in Bodina, Budgam, and received his primary and secondary education in Budgam and later at Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He completed his Master’s degree in Kashmiri language and literature from the University of Kashmir in 1987. He is the Srinagar bureau chief of Jammu & Kashmir’s largest-circulated newspaper, Daily Excelsior. He is also a filmmaker and currently making a film on Kashmir’s top pilgrim tourism destination of Chrar-e-Sharief, and about Sheikh-ul-Alam Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani, also known as Nund Rishi.)

SRINAGAR, Nov 23: Bollywood’s main outdoor shooting attraction of the second half of 20th century, Kashmir valley is yet again poised to host a galaxy of cinestars as over a dozen prominent producers and directors have expressed desire to picturise fiction at Pahalgam, Gulmarg and other favourite destinations. While Santosh Sivan’s full length feature film “Daastaan” is all set to break the ice in Pahalgam, top Iranian director Majid Majeedi is burning midnight oil to make a documentary film on the boatmen of the world-famous Dal Lake.

Thiruvananthapuram-based noted cinematographer and director, Santosh Sivani, has been shuttling between Kerala, Maharashtra and Kashmir to finalise his shooting schedules with a number of popular Bollywood actors for his all-new “Daastaan”. Sivan’s managers have created massive sets for the film in Betab Valley, on Pahalgam-Chandanwari Road and the month-long shooting is all set to take off any time. Actors, Ratish Menon and Sarika are among a number of people who have arrived in and settled at Pahalgam. The picturesque valley takes its new name from Sunny Deol, Amrita Singh-starrer “Betab” filmed here in late 1980s.

Even as Salman Khan’s arrival in a few days in being dismissed as a rumour, sources associated with the production revealed to EXCELSIOR that leading actors like Victor Banerjee, Anupam Kher, Akshay Khanna and Rahul Bose would be reaching here from Mumbai on different dates from November 27th to December 4th next. Proprietor of Hotel Pine-n-Peak, Faisal Mira confirmed that that Sarika and a few others had arrived in and others were expected shortly but insisted that it was all a “reccee” to see the location. He said that immediately there was no major programme of shooting in Pahalgam. Sources, however, informed that preparations were in full swing for the shooting of Sivan’s film next week.

Daastaan, the film’s tentative title, has already created enthusiasm among film lovers as it is said to have been set in Kashmir’s contemporary era of insurgency, almost like Mani Ratnam’s “Roja”, though the theme is reportedly altogether different. Interestingly, Santosh Sivan has been Mani Ratnam’s cameraperson in most of his Bollywood hits from “Roja” to Dil Se. An FTII graduate, Sivan has, of late, turned to be an independent director and his 2001 magnum opus, Asoka, in which Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor played lead roles, has won him a many accolades in Hindustani cinema.

Sivan, who happens to be the son of a prominent Kerala filmmaker and the brother of prominent Malayalam film directors, Sanjiv Sivan and Sangeeth Sivan, has won eleven National Film Awards from his participation as a cinematographer in over forty films from the 1980s to mid-1990s. His success as a director began with his critically acclaimed “The Terrorist”—a film on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by Tamil terrorists— in 1999.

Santosh Sivan was among a galaxy of the Indian film producers, directors and cinematographers who attended the October film conclave, organised by SATTE in collaboration with Producers Guild of India, in Mumbai. Sources said he was attracted to Pahalgam and Gulmarg by an official delegation of J&K Tourism Department which played a presentation on J&K’s best film locales. Others who attended and later expressed one or the other willingness of shooting in Kashmir included the UTV giant Ronny Screwalla, who also happens to be the President of Producers Guild, producer of the 2005 Bollywood hit “Rang De Basanti” and few others of Amir Khan’s films, Bobby Bedi and Ravi Chopra.

Joint Director of Tourism, Kashmir, Sarmad Hafeez, refused to comment on Sivan’s shooting schedules in Pahalgam but he confirmed that the renowned Kerala director was among those who were convinced that shooting of Indian films was not only economically better than Malaysia and America but also necessary to break a monotony of two decades. “We got a fairly encouraging response at the SATTE event and we assured the producers that today’s Kashmir was indeed security wise safer than many Indian cities. He advised them to revive the shooting activity in J&K and convinced them that Department of Tourism would function as the nodal agency in making all arrangements, including permission from different departments and organisations. They were glad to learn that unlike many shooting locations in India and all over the world, there was no shooting fees in J&K”, Sarmad Hafeez said.

Even as a few Bollywood films, including “Mission Kashmir” and “Mere Apne”, have been shot in the Valley in the last 18 years of armed strife, popular shooting attractions of yesteryears, like Pahalgam, have been haunted by a many nightmares, particularly the kidnapping of six foreign tourists in July 1995. Inspite of increasing number of tourists and Amarnath pilgrims, a number of IED and grenade attacks have taken place in Pahalgam in the last 12 years.

With the Valley’s gradual metamorphosis into sublime, the frequency of direct flights between Srinagar and Mumbai has remarkably increased in the last two years. Almost all the private operators have been running hopping flights between the two major tourist destinations on regular basis and the International Airport is coming up in Srinagar with considerable speed and progress. Hospitality and tourism sources said that as many as 10 hotels had installed the much-needed central heating system at Pahalgam and Gulmarg in the last two years as against one-odd at Gulmarg until recently.

Interestingly, one of Iran’s top ranking filmmakers, Majid Majeedi, spent a week here last month while exploring the possibility of making a documentary film on the life of boatmen on Dal Lake. Sources said that Majeedi was currently finishing with the script and other logistics in Tehran and he had already selected some child artists from among the children of boatmen in Srinagar. Like Ja’far Panahi, Abbas K Rostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Majid Majeedi is among the well-known personalities in the Iranian film industry. Majeedi’s Persian film “Baid-e-Majnoon”, story of a blind professor, was widely acclaimed all over the world in 2006 and this year. “The Colour of Paradise”, which won the Best Film award at the Montreal Film Festival last year was also screened and appreciated at The International Film Festival in Malappuram, Kerala. Sources said that J&K Tourism officials were also making efforts to woo the legendary Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his young daughter, Sameera, who won the best film award for one of her films few years back in New Delhi but refused to accept in protest against the gang rape of a European embassy official at the festival venue. Makhmalbaf’s and Majeedi have made the best of Iranian films on children.