As Bollywood plans comeback, its affair with Kashmir is old

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Bollywood, the Mumbai-based film industry, is planning a return to the scenic location of Kashmir valley, a mountainous region of lakes and meadows that once was a go-to destination for the industry.

The comeback is being planned as the big-shot filmmakers and producers of the likes of Ajay Devgn Films, Sanjay Dutt Productions, Reliance Entertainment, and Rohit Shetty Films had last month made a recce of the region to explore potential filming locations.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had taken the initiative further and on Sunday had met filmmakers – Ekta Kapoor, Dinesh Vijan, Imtiaz Ali, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, and Nitesh Tiwari – in Mumbai. Joshi reportedly invited them to revisit Kashmir for their future projects and also discussed with the filmmakers’ community about how the process can be made more business-friendly.

The latest outreach to the film industry has come at a time when the tourism industry has made a modest restart after remaining shut for nearly two years.

Mushtaq Ahmed Chaya, who owns a chain of hotels, is upbeat by Bollywood’s return. “We welcome the film industry who are returning now. This will positively impact our tourism industry; that’s our work: when they will come, hotels will be booked, shikaras, taxis, and local shops will earn,” he said. “Many people who have not been to Kashmir, see this place in films and are attracted. It is a good promotion.”

The restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic had stalled many projects that impacted local line producers too. Khawar Jamsheed, a Kashmir-based line producer, said that “since a lot of pending work that was stopped because of COVID-19 that will continue now. “Now, if the situations remain normal, this industry will continue to grow,” he said.

Jamsheed, who has expanded his work further to south India’s Tollywood, has joined major Bollywood projects, including Raazi, as a line producer. “This industry is interlinked to tourism,” he added, “and has potential to generate employment.”

The movie industry’s affair with Kashmir, however, dates back to the 1960s decade when the picturesque region became the scene for blockbusters.

The scenes that often identified an image from Kashmir came from the celebrated vintage film Kashmir Ki Kali that featured Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore.

The old-time romance that Bollywood found in Junglee, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Bobby, Silsila, and Betaab was later carried on by coming-of-age producers that made movies such as Rockstar, Highway, and Fitoor.

Kashmir has also been the background of hyper-nationalist movies, too, such as Uri, a dramatic representation of the 2016 surgical strike. Over the period of time, however, critics have often accused the industry of stereotyping a Kashmiri Muslim’s identity in politically-wrong dimensions.

A recent controversy arose after an advertisement of Biggboss Dollar Thermal featuring Manish Paul showed a Kashmiri as a thief in the plotline. Social media users were quick to call out the “stereotyping”. The issue was later fueled by the visit of Shehnaaz Gill of BiggBoss TV show fame, with Badshah, a rapper, for a music video shoot in Kashmir.

She uploaded a small video clip of her dancing on the song Bumbro Bumbro from the movie Mission Kashmir. Many Kashmiris called her video a “stunt” and accused her of “cultural appropriation”.

Nonetheless, Kashmir, despite its turbulent years, continues to attract Bollywood.

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