Heaven on earth
With the inauguration of the first Ladakh International Film Festival (LIFF) in Leh town recently, a look at how Bollywood's fascination with the Kashmir Valley has changed over a period of time
Kitni khubsoorat yeh tasveer hai, mausam bemisal benazir hai yeh Kashmir hai yeh Kashmir hai….These were the beautiful lines that Amitabh Bachchan, Raakhee and Vinod Mehra sang in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Bemisal .This was in 1982, some years before gun shots disrupted the melodious sound of Bollywood romancing the Kashmir Valley. Before militancy and extremism Kashmir was truly a paradise on earth. Many of the 1960s musicals like Subodh Mukherjee’s Junglee and Shakti Samanta’s Kashmir Ki Kali were shot in the Valley. In fact so many of Shammi Kapoor’s films were shot in Kashmir. It was only befitting that after his death his ashes were immersed in the Jhelum.
Films like Ashok Pandit’s Sheen, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission: Kashmir , Shoojit Sircar’s Yahaan and Onir’s I Am Megha spotlighted insurgency and its aftermath with varying degrees of poignancy and detachment.
Sircar recalls while he shot Yahaan in Kashmir where he could hear gunshots in the distance. Said Sircar, “You’ve to go there, live with Kashmiris to know how alienated they’ve become from the rest of India.” Ashok Pandit took his film Sheen, based on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, to the United Nations in Geneva in 2004 to make the international world conscious of what was happening in Kashmir. The response he got was astounding.
Recalls Pandit, “It was an annual forum called the United Nations Defence on Human Rights Violation. I had sent a request for my film Sheen to be screened there. I made a 90-minute version with English subtitles and showed it in Geneva. The impact was unbelievable. There were lots of Kashmir-related militant outfits present at the conference, including the Hurriyat. They had created an impression at the conference that every Indian security personnel was a rapist and that no woman in Kashmir was safe from them.”
When Pandit showed Sheen at the UN, the delegates had tears in their eyes. “But the militant representatives took offence. One of the Hurriyat representatives said my perception about the plight of Kashmiri Pandits was totally fictional. I turned around and asked the chairperson for 15 extra minutes. I screened my documentary And The World Remained Silent, which I had personally filmed all over Kashmir. I shot the violence in the Valley live with a hidden camera. I feel victims are free of political and religious bias. The only difference between a Kashmiri Pandit and a Muslim riot victim in Gujarat is his religion. My family and I have been the victims of violence. I’ve been thrown out of my home in Kashmir. But the media writes only about the militants. Why? Because a victim cannot be a hero?” Pandit added, “Except for Mani Ratnam’s Roja , I feel whatever films have been made on militancy in Kashmir have stuck to a formula. Even Ratnam in the climax has favoured the militants.”
Ashok feels that Indian cinema has shied away from portraying the true picture in Kashmir. “The way Hollywood portrayed the World War II holocaust .The pain and tragedy, such immense brutality is never captured in our cinema. Kashmir is more often than not a mere prop. The Kashmir issue is just a catalyst but never the theme. We don’t have a Kashmiri epic like Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List on the Nazi holocaust although the killings in Kashmir have occurred on a much larger scale and over 20 years. We shy away from the situation. Hundreds of movies have been made on the World War II. But we can’t name one memorable film on the horrors of the Valley.”
Life for the Bollywood filmmakers has now come a full circle. Now in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, Ranbir Kapoor takes Nargis Fakhri to Kashmir simply because it is one of the things she wants to do before getting married. Kashmir has never been better portayed as a Paradise Regained.
And yet filmmaker Ashvin Kumar feels we’ve all but lost Kashmir. To view Ashvin Kumar’s two films Inshanallah, Football and Inshanallah, Kashmir on the Kashmir crisis back-to-back, is to wake up to a very real and palpable crisis in our body politic. “The harrowing first-person accounts of torture persecution and death of the local population in the hands of those who have been elected to protect the right to freedom of every Indian, left me shaken to the core. No, this can’t be happening in democratic India. Worse still, these two documentaries, shot with the emotional velocity of feature films, (Inshanallah, Football is particularly elegiac lyrical and inspiring) are faced with censorial issues.”
There is a strange dichotomy between the perception shared by filmmaker Ashvin Kumar and the censorboard over his controversial documentary Inshallah Kashmir. While Ashvin categorically says his film been banned by the Censor Board Of Film certification (CBFC), clearly states there is no such ban. Speaking on the Inshallah Kashmir Ashvin states, “People think it’s about extremism. It’s actually about humanity. It’s a companion piece to my earlier film Inshallah Football.” Apparently a multiplex chain has offered to buy both of Ashvin’s documentaries and release them as one film. Provided the censorboard clears them both.
Director Rahul Dholakia could not complete the first schedule of his film on Kashmiri separatism Lamhaa in the Kashmir valley when the shoot was disrupted. Recalls the filmmaker, “In the middle of all our troubles we did manage to shoot some spectacular scenes. In Manali we tried to match the topography with Kashmir. There were more security personnel than onlookers over there and they kept intruding into the camera range. Security was not a problem in Kashmir. Some of my actors just freaked out and fled. Lamhaa was a very positive look at Kashmir. It was about present-day Kashmir. My previous film Parzania was about the current situation in Gujarat post the communal carnage. The Kashmiris’ apprehensions are not entirely wrong. The people are scared and aggressive. At one place during shooting of my film, we were told that if we came without security personnel we’d be welcomed in every Kashmiri home.”
Dholakia feels, a film unit returning from Kashmir without shooting is very harmful to Kashmiri tourism. “We had to recreate Kashmir at Film City. We built replicas of lanes and streets in Srinagar. We got four truckloads of artifacts from Kashmir. Entire families came down to Mumbai from Kashmir to shoot for Lamhaa.”
On the other hand Piyush Jha who shot Sikandar , a sensitive film about a young boy Parzaan Dastoor’s efforts to play football in Kashmir during times of militancy found it easy to shoot in the Valley. “Kashmir was shown as a place of immense beauty .Now it’s shown as a place that spawns cruelty. In Sikandar, I tried to depict this off-balance Kashmiri situation. I juxtaposed the beauty of Mother Nature against the evil that humans do and the effect this can have on the coming generations in Kashmir.”
Piyush’s experience of shooting in Kashmir was really most pleasurable. “I enjoyed Kashmir thoroughly. What I depicted in the film based on my research is that militancy is on the wane in Kashmir. This was due to the fact that I had a smooth shoot in the valley. Perhaps today the truth is that Kashmir, is in most parts safe, and yes it is still one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. Sikandar was a post-card to Kashmir which contrasts the visual beauty with the cruelty of the goings-on of the last 20 years. My own experience was that of a smooth shoot, without any disturbances or glitches. The local people were very supportive . Perhaps, we were able to relate to them well. Our local production managers and assistants were drawn from the pool of people who were very professional in their approach, and we had a dream run while the shoot lasted.”
Piyush feels film units can even go back to the days of Kashmir Ki Kali and Junglee in the Valley. “Wherever we went, we were shown locations and told that this location was used in this film, that location was in so and so song. For instance we shot in the beautiful ‘Betaab Valley’ near Pahalgam, so named because the film Betaab was shot there. In another place, I was shown the temple used in the song Jai Jai Shiv Shankar from the film Aap ki Kasam. The Kashmiri people are very proud that so many films were shot in the valley, and sad that for the past so many years, film crews have not visited the place. People on the streets would shout to us as we walked by ‘Send more film people back. Tell them that we miss them’.”
Piyush added, “Nine times out of 10, Kashmir will invoke images of AK-47 wielding young terrorists. We will shudder if any of our friends suggest going for a holiday to Kashmir. We will dismiss Kashmir as a “problem”— someone else’s problem. I wanted to show that the average Kashmiri has absolutely the same aspirations as someone from Bihar, Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra has. The average Kashmiri kid wants to be a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer. He wants the latest MP3 players, 24 hrs Hi-Speed broadband, and wants to take part in Reality Shows. In other words, the average young person is not oiling his AK-47 for the next strike, but is waiting for the rest of the country to accept him into the national mainstream.”
Filmmaker Onir who shot I Am Megha with Manisha Koirala and Juhi Chawla in Kashmir feels there are many untold stories in the Valley waiting to be told. “Before militancy, Kashmir was always the place for romance and song. But the films were not about the people in Kashmir. In recent years it has been portrayed as a den of terrorism.”
Could we hope to see the revival of those delectably innocent days when a talcum-fresh Saira Banu romped in the Kashmir valley singing, Kashmir ki kali hoon main mujhse na rootho babuji. Kashmir nahin rootha, wahan ki taqdeer rooth gayi?
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah inaugurated the first Ladakh International Film Festival (LIFF) in Leh town from June 15 to June 17.
Welcoming the participants, he highlighted the state’s captivating natural beauty, world-class film locations, rich heritage and cultural diversity, making a special reference to unique serenity of the Ladakh region.
"Our beautiful land offers wide-ranging attractions to the tourists of all interests, and we have to add variety to this specialty by focusing on sports, cultural, adventure, pilgrim and heritage tourism,” the chief minister said.
He said the mountainous beauty and heritage of Ladakh would always be an interesting subject for film makers and global tourism. Abdullah added, “With the coming up of excellent infrastructure in the shape of auditorium, I expect that the holding of festivals of national and international standards would become a permanent feature in Leh.”
Sixty films on various subjects, including documentary, art and features, were screened during the three-day festival being chaired by film maker Shyam Benegal.