Bollywood Returns To Kashmir After 18 Years
14 December 2007
Pahalgam: Blessed with lofty mountains and breathtaking landscape, Kashmir the preferred destination of filmmakers 18 years back is once again being opted by Bollywood production houses to shoot films at locations that match or even surpasses in beauty many in Europe. Latest among the films being shot here is Dastaan, which is directed by ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan, whom Bollywood king Shah Rukh Khan chose to direct his home venture Ashoka. Dastaan is Sivan’s second Hindi film as director. The shot which commences early in the morning here in a village Dalseer, some 20 kms from here, depicts a man and a child draped in Kashmiri Pheran who arrive in this picturesque hamlet amidst snowfall and stand silently in surprise watching a marriage being solemnized there. And as the bride hugs her parents and relatives, tears are visible in eyes of the duo and others present there. However, before the tears trickle down their cheeks, somebody shouted “good shot, cut” and everybody switched their roles, exchanging smiles. The man in Pheran was none other than versatile actor of Hindi and English films Rahul Bose. The film being shot in Pahalgam for past over four weeks has Rahul Khanna, Anupam Kher and Sarika as lead stars. Pulling a horse, Rahul Bose amidst snow walked through a muddy road as Santosh Sivan sitting atop a crane focused his camera on him. However, the little actor Master Puran who plays the character of Ihsan in the film struggled to move a mule on the mud. The crew members and the cops had a tough time as hundreds of villagers gathered on the spot to see the shooting. But they managed to control them. It was only after few retakes that Santosh was satisfied with the shot and relieved the crew for lunch. “It has been my fascinating experience shooting here. I have fallen in love with people and locations here on my first visit. I want to shoot in Autumn too as we can see through the trees and get different angles,” Santosh Sivan, who has bagged 11 National Film Awards, told Greater Kashmir on the spot. However, he refused to divulge details about the film. “All I can say that it is a story of a little Kashmiri boy and is set in Kashmir,” said Santosh, who graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and has even made some international films recently. His Before the Rains was sent for Dubai Film Festival. Coincidentally Santosh Sivan has worked as cinematographer in Mani Ratnam’s critically acclaimed Roja, which touched sensitive subject of militancy in Kashmir in early 90s. Santosh has also worked in same capacity in Dil Se which dealt with similar theme in north-east. After finishing the lunch, the crew made preparations for a marriage scene. “The villagers will also participate in the wedding,” said smiling Santosh clad in a pheran as he positioned an old man and women wearing traditional Kashmiri dresses behind the bride and groom. “Action” Santosh shouted and the whole village reverberated with Kashmiri folk songs. It looked a real Kashmiri marriage. Santosh seemed to have done his homework about Kashmiri culture well as even traditional Isband in a copper utensil had been kept near the bride and groom. Sitting near a tree, Rahul Bose despite his hectic schedule agreed to talk. “I was four years old when I came to Kashmir. You can consider this as my first visit,” said Rahul who has acted with many Bollywood actors including Kareena Kapoor in Chameli, and Mallika Sherawat in Pyar Ke Side Effects. Pointing towards the snow-clad mountains, Rahul said, “Kashmir is absolutely wonderful place and people are very good. I am in greats spirits shooting there. Any place is safe and any place is unsafe in India and I don’t find Kashmir any different in this respect,” he said. About the condition of roads in villages in Pahalgam, Rahul said “in other parts of the country the road are worse. Taking it as yardstick, Kashmir has got some good roads,” he said. Did Rahul find the life in villages of Pahalgam hard? “I couldn’t find out life hard as I am shooting as a star. I just come on the spot by cars, shoot and when I want food I get it. So it is an unreal, pampered existence as an actor. But as a human being who has to go and experience life in villages, it will take me months,” he said. “Each film has a subject that dictates the location. I would love to come here not just as an actor but as a tourist. Kashmir is a special and unique place,” Rahul, who besides actor is a social activist and an international rugby player. Mubeena Ratansi, producer of the film, said “Actually the film was scheduled to be shot in Manali in Himachal Pradesh. “When I for the first time came to Kashmir with my family few months ago, I saw everything normal. There was nothing like what is being projected outside about Kashmir. I wondered why have people stopped shooting here. So we had a recce and decided to shoot the film here,” she said. However, it was not a smooth job for Mubeena. She had to convince the actors and the crew that Kashmir is a safe place and managed to get nearly 100 crew mostly from Mumbai and south. Rest she is using locals for logistical support. “I believe that whatever has to happen can happen anywhere. If safety is the concern then Mumbai is as unsafe as Kashmir. I am not denying the fact that there has been lot of activity in the past, but I think situation is not so bad now and people are moving along,” she said. For Mubeena shooting in Pahalgam has been an exciting experience. “It is one of the beautiful locations. The cooperation and welcome we received from people and administration is outstanding. Even though the people are not film friendly there is a lot of excitement among them as it is after a long time shooting is taking place here,” “It has been my most fantastic experience. I think everyone should try this place once. There is no need to go to Switzerland. Weather is beautiful, seasons are beautiful, we should tap its potential. Not only Bollywood, but film industry of south should be receptive to Kashmir,” she said. Policemen wishing not to be named said it has been a new experience for them to provide security to the actors and the crew. “After seeing the shooting, now we realize how difficult it is to make a film. The actors are very down to earth and Anupam Kher is a lovely person. We put our lives at risk and rescued the crew and actors when they were stranded at Chandanwari due to heavy snowfall on Sunday,” the cops said. Quoting Anupam Kher, a Kashmiri Pandit, who left for Mumbai after completing his schedule here, one of the unit members said Dastaan will change Kashmir’s perception not only at local level but outside too.” “Kher Sahib is very optimistic about the film,” he said. “Dastaan is a story weaved around culture, ethos and traditions. That’s all we have been told. The main theme of the film has been kept a secret,” he said. The shooting of this film in this off-season has provided livelihood to a large number of people. “They are paying us good money. We wish more shooting units come here,” said Ghulam Qadir, a horseman.