Bollywood took an extra leap on Friday when writer-director Imtiaz Ali interacted with the students of Kashmir University in a rare gesture and faced questions ranging from politics to his romantic life to film techniques.
Countering allegations made by students that there was prejudice and misrepresentation of Kashmir in the past films, Ali quipped: "You have to make your own cinema. Kashmir is not fairly represented... but don't expect others to do it for you. I may like millions of things about Kashmir and they do get reflected in my movies like 'Rockstar'.
Ali was among the first directors to revive Bollywood's lost link with Kashmir, marred by two-decade-long militancy, with his flick 'Rockstar' in 2011. Ali's shooting in the Valley did instill a sense of security among many Bollywood directors. Late Yash Chopra returned to the Valley after three decades to shoot 'Jab Tak Hai Jaan' in 2012. The hanging of Afzal Guru did not deter Ali from shooting in Kashmir despite many started to shelve their shooting plans.
Avoiding any political answers on Kashmir, Ali, while responding to the fact that Bollywood's presence in Kashmir has become an indicator of normalcy, said,"It is good. But don't take it literally."
Dismantling the myth of Muslim stereotyping, Ali said, "Many communities like Sikhs, Nepali, etc., have been stereotyped. But things are changing...let's not see conspiracy in everything"
At present, Ali is shooting his new movie 'Highway', starring Alia Bhat and Randeep Hooda, in the Valley. "It is a story of a girl and boy who are unsuitable to each other. The film is shot on the highways, away from society. Sometime you have to come out of your inner being to realise who you are."
Randeep has been shown as a Gujjar, a nomadic community, boy in the film. "The canvass and scope is different this time because I have shot scene on high slopes, reflecting life of Bakerwals," said Ali.
Ali answered to dozens of questions in a session at the varsity Mass Communication Research Centre's auditorium to an excited crowd for over one and a half hour. "He is grounded than his larger than life image. He made filmmaking sound very easy and simple," said Umreena, a mass communication student, who intends to become a filmmaker.
Impressed by no-holds-barred interaction, Nishah Zargar, another student, said, "Ali has set a new trend for Bollywood by interacting with students of Kashmir."
On being asked how much his romantic life reflects in his movie, Ali, with shy expression, said, "Very thinly reflected. It is not biographical. I would not reflect it directly but in some other way".
Bewitched by Kashmir's beauty, Ali told the audience that he has never seen such beautiful place in his life. "It is a sophisticated society. Level of aesthetics is very high. The entire nation sees Kashmir as jewel. People often refer to beauty of people and places. I wish people cross over and make good movies in Bollywood."
Ali said he has already recced location in north-eastern part of Kashmir, Gurez. "I am hopeful I will shoot my next film there."
Ali, who is also attending a Kashmiri wedding, annoyed no one in the audience and silently clicked hundreds of pictures with students and teachers. Ali is fast becoming a motivating icon among locals because of the ease with which he mingles in the crowd in the valley, a rare acceptance in the highly volatile and politically sensitive valley.