Shammi Kapoor throws himself on the snow-laden slopes of Kashmir, as Saira Banu joins him from the other end. Shovelling snow as they descend, Kapoor screams, “Yahoo!”. This song from the 1961 film, Junglee, went on to become one of the greatest hits of all time. But with the film, what probably got even more deeply etched in the memory of the audience — and fellow industry members — was the sight of the pristine state of Jammu and Kashmir.
With the magnificent snow-capped Himalayan range as the backdrop, the shikaras on the Dal Lake and the vast, lush green landscapes, Kashmir didn’t take long to get Bollywood under its spell. Over the next 25-odd years, several film-makers headed north to shoot hits like Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Mere Sanam (1965), Aarzoo (1965), Himalay Ki God Main (1965), Do Badan (1966), Bobby (1973), Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971), Kabhie Kabhie (1976), Love In Kashmir (1976), Silsila (1981) and Betab (1983), among others.
Then, around the late ’80s and early ’90s, the insurgency began. Shooting in the picturesque valley became dangerous, and to avoid any further trouble, film-makers started avoiding going to Kashmir. It is believed that in 1992, Mani Ratnam had planned to shoot Roja in the state, but it is believed that the terrorism there led him to shift his shoot to other hilly locations.
There was a lull of about a decade, during which time, very few film-makers shot in Kashmir. Then, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir made news for venturing back into the territory in 2000; the film-maker had shot his film, Khamosh, in the valley back 1985.
“Although we were told that there is no tension in Kashmir, we could feel it. Army officers would patrol the streets regularly. In fact, one of my team members was even questioned by some officials who thought he was a terrorist,” says ace cinematographer Binod Pradhan, who was working on the Sanjay Dutt and Hrithik Roshan-starrer at the time.
As film-makers get set to return to the state for shoots, we trace Bollywood’s long-standing affair with the valley that continues despite insurgency and hostile weather conditions.
News of Mission Kashmir’s successful shoot spread fast and Bollywood’s interest in the state was rekindled towards the end of the 1990s. Around the mid-2000s, when the insurgency wasn’t entirely under control, director Shoojit Sircar decided to return to the valley to shoot his 2005 film, Yahaan, starring Jimmy Sheirgill. While shooting in downtown Srinagar, Shoojit recalls relying on guerrilla tactics to get the job done. “I wanted to shoot in an area called Habba Kadal… this was a kind of place where anything could happen at any time,” says the director, adding, “So when I told Jimmy that we would be shooting there, he tried to dissuade me. Later, he decided to drink till morning and then do the shot so he wouldn’t be in his senses to realise what was happening around him.”
Better days ahead
The situation in Kashmir continued to stabilise. By the second half of the 2000s, film-makers began exploring the state more willingly. In 2007, Piyush Jha landed there to shoot a film that had terrorism as the backdrop. Called Sikandar (2009), the film was produced by Sudhir Mishra.
In late 2008 and early 2009, director Rahul Dholakia shot the multi-starrer Lamha in Kashmir. Admitting that he first went to Kashmir out of sheer curiosity, he says, “I had met a few students in Delhi who once told me that Kashmir is like a beautiful prison. I wanted to see that for myself. I wanted to know how a place has been stuck in time for 20 years.”
In 2011, film-maker Yash Chopra also returned to the valley to shoot Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) with Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif. Previously, he has filmed Silsila and Kabhie Kabhie there.
Director Imtiaz Ali, who has, on numerous occasions, spoken of his love for Kashmir, went there to shoot the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Rockstar (2011) in 2010 and Ali Bhatt-starrer Highway in 2013. Later, Ranbir also returned to the northern state to work on Ayan Mukerji’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013).
Returning to the valley
Just when Kashmir was re-emerging as a top shooting spot for Bollywood, the state was hit by the worst flood in 60 years in September this year. Even though several directors’ shoots stand cancelled as of now — as they wait for the situation to improve and rehabilitation to take place — the floods and destruction hasn’t deterred them from rescheduling their plans.
Producer Bhushan Kumar, for instance, is set to take the crew of his upcoming film there in the third week of November. “What Kashmir needs right now is more business. It needs a lot of people to come there. For how long can you keep holding back due to the floods? I have already been there a few times since the flood, and when people there found out that I was coming with 120 people, they were very happy,” says Vivek Agnihotri, who is directing the film starring Pulkit Samrat and Yami Gautam.
Among the other directors who will also head north in the near future, are Abhishek Kapoor (to shoot his next with Rekha, Katrina Kaif and Aditya Roy Kapur) and Kabir Khan (to can Salman Khan’s film in January).
Art director Subrata Chakraborthy, who was in Kashmir while working on Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider starring Shahid Kapoorlast year, feels makers have more than one reason to keep heading there. “Apart from a view that is great and distinct throughout the year, the people there are so amazing. I was there during Eid and the locals got me some 40 kinds of meats and dishes to eat — this is the kind of love they have for those who visit them, maybe that’s why, no matter what happens, Bollywood keeps going back for more,” says Chakraborthy.