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Valley woos, regional filmmakers respond

Srinagar, June 24: When paradise calls, you don’t refuse.

The Omar Abdullah government’s efforts to woo Bengali and other regional filmmakers to shoot in Kashmir are beginning to bear fruit. Kashmir’s tourism chief Talat Parvez said requests for shooting in the Valley have been coming in from filmmakers across the country, including from Bengal.

The Valley, hailed as the paradise on earth for its bewitching beauty, had been a favourite destination for Bollywood and regional film industries before militancy brought an end to that romance. The rebels also forced the closure of all cinemas, calling them un-Islamic.

Many film crews from Bollywood have, however, thronged Kashmir in recent years and successfully shot films like the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar and Vishal Bhardwaj’s upcoming film Haider.

With the shooting of Bollywood films becoming an annual feature here, the Jammu and Kashmir government started reaching out to regional filmmakers, although some of them came here on their own.

“Regional films were shot in large numbers here earlier. Then (after the turmoil started here) they started going to Switzerland to capture snow peaks and mountains as they had no other option,” Parvez said, adding that there has been a “good response” of late.

Parvez said Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Bengali filmmakers were now thronging Kashmir. “A Marathi filmmaker wants to shoot a 3D family drama here. Telugu filmmakers have in particular shown great interest.”

Bengali filmmaker Sanghamitra Chowdhary said she was planning a film in Kashmir and might visit the Valley in September-October, although she had not yet approached the state government.

“This is a film about a (Hindu) family getting trapped. The family (later) runs away, leaving their unwell daughter (who is pregnant). A Muslim boy (a militant) helps her to come out of that problem. Its (film’s) theme is very positive,” she said.

Nazir Bakshi, Kashmir’s travel trade pioneer who has facilitated the shooting of dozens of films, said it would be good for Kashmir if Bengali films were shot here as many tourists who visit the Valley are from Bengal. “Many Telugu and Tamil films were shot here (before militancy) but I don’t think Bengali films were shot here.”

While Kashmir’s relationship with Bollywood and regional film industries goes back decades, Bakshi said the first film that turned it into a favourite destination for filmmakers was Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat. “There was also a time when Amitabh Bachchan would spend some months here every year,” he added.

“Many of the hit films of actors like Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor and Joy Mukherjee were shot here. I still remember the shooting of films like Junglee, Kashmir Ki Kali, Satte Pe Satta and Laawaris,” he said. “Thousands would go to watch them.”

The outbreak of militancy forced filmmakers to look to Switzerland and other locations for shoots. While Kashmir's spectacular surroundings disappeared from big screens, militancy emerged as the main subject for filmmakers. Some of these films on militancy, such as Mani Ratnam’s Roja and Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa, were shot at places that resembled Kashmir.

Tourism director Parvez said some films that were themed on militancy and shot here in recent years projected Kashmir in a negative light. “While we welcome filmmakers to Kashmir, we don’t allow shootings on controversial subjects,” he said. “We would like them to focus on the revival of romantic or adventure-related themes.”