Kashmir is often called ‘heaven on earth’.One show that effectively captured the beauty of the valley was Gul Gulshan Gulfam. The 1991 show, which used to air on Doordarshan (DD), revolved around a Kashmiri family, who relied on tourism for their livelihood. They used to earn money by transporting tourists, from one end of a lake to the other, on their shikaras (boats). The drama juxtaposed the exquisiteness of the region with the grim reality of the state during the period of militancy. It focused on how the lives of several people were turned upside down when tourism took a hit.
Produced by Prem Krishen and Sunil Mehta, the popular series was on air for 45 episodes. It starred Parikshit Sahni, Radha Seth, Pankaj Berry, Vishal Singh, Upender Khashu and Bashir Dada, among others. Many local actors were also cast to lend authenticity to the show.
“It was my father, Premnathji’s (late actor) dream to make a show based in Kashmir. Also, at that time, DD wanted to air something that was different from the shows that were already airing on the channel. So, we made one that was set in Kashmir,” says Krishen. Fifteen episodes were shot in Kashmir, and then the crew moved to Mumbai. They shot the rest of the show in Filmcity, Goregaon (E). “I would have loved to shoot the entire show in Kashmir. But due to some terrorist disturbances in the region, we had to return,” says Krishen. The makers had also, apparently, submitted the script of the show to the government for their approval before shooting it.
Krishen credits writer Pran Kishore and director Ved Rahi for the success of the show. “They were Kashmiris, and added their own experiences to the show,” he says. The production unit shot for the show for six months before it went on air. Sahni, who had a pivotal role, went to Kashmir 20 days before the schedule started to observe the shikara owners. “Working on this series was one of the best experiences of my life, as I belong to Kashmir. I know the language, and I know how to row a shikara. I was excited about going back, but it was depressing too. In 1989, Kashmir was gripped by terrorism; it was heartbreaking to see the region in that state,” says Sahni, adding that the audience loved watching the show because it had a different setting. “I played an old man, who ran shikaras on a lake. The serial showcased how his world gets disrupted, when his sons plan to move to a bigger city,” he says.
Sahni also loved the fact that the show promoted a “healthy religious atmosphere”. His character, who was a Muslim, had a Hindu friend. They were shown celebrating all the festivals together. “The toughest part of playing the role was modulating my voice to sound like an old man. It was an effort, and it took a toll on me,” he says.