Romancing Kashmir: Looking Back at Happier Times

How the relationship between Bollywood and Kashmir has changed over time.

6 min read
A still from the song 'Deewana hua badal'

It was 1985 and a group of journalists, this writer included, was flown to Kashmir to cover the shooting of Karma, that filmmaker Subhash Ghai was directing on the meadows of Pahalgam. It was a grand venture with stalwarts like Dilip Kumar, Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah matching skills, and youngsters like Sridevi, Poonam Dhillon, Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff lending youthful exuberance to a story of a jailor taking on terrorists with the help of his prisoners.

Gulping in lungsful of cool, crisp air as we drove down from Srinagar to Pahalgam, the thought of lurking gunmen taking pot-shots at us never occurred to anybody, looking forward as we were, to a shooting of the glamorous kind.

It was possible those days to move around fearlessly in the state and film multi-starrers without body-guards in tow.

Thirty-five years later, how things have changed!

Uri: The Surgical Strike, which released in 2019, and was based on a true event about retaliating against militants who had attacked the military base in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir, was not filmed in the state; but largely shot in Serbia.

Recently, the action scenes of another film, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, about one of our early women pilots to be involved in combat, was shot in Georgia instead of Kashmir which has, sadly, transformed from being a filmmaker’s paradise to a hotbed of terrorists.

In these awful, troubled times, one can’t help but look back, nostalgically, at the 1960s, when, after the advent of colour, movie magnates flocked to Kashmir to capture its multi-hued splendour in breezy, musical romances.

Subodh Mukherjee was one of the earliest producer-directors to set his story there. Junglee, capturing the virginal beauty of an unspoiled state, released in 1961. Studded with one hummable song after another, composed by Shankar and Jaikishan, the film was lapped up by an audience that enjoyed seeing a crazy, energetic Shammi Kapoor rolling down snowy slopes with an uninhibited Yahoo! Kashmir epitomised freedom from urban constraints and provided cathartic pleasure to viewers who soaked in its beauty, sitting in darkened auditoriums, across the country. Whether it was Kapoor’s boisterous 'Chahe mujhe koi junglee kahe' or the playful 'Kaashmir ki kali hoon main', lip-synced by a peaches-and-cream Saira Banu, every song was a chart-buster, with the clear blue skies and flower-beds of a pristine Kashmir forming a perfect backdrop.

In 1963, Nasir Husain presented a guitar-strumming Joy Mukherjee opposite a tomboyish Asha Parekh in Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, shot extensively in what had fast become the favourite escapist location of Bombay story writers. It would seem like the story and lyrics of 'Phir Wohi…' were written with the explicit purpose of moving out from the stuffy studios of Bombay to the spectacular landscape of Shalimar Bagh, the shikara-dotted Dal Lake or the pine-covered slopes of the Himalayas.

Romancing Kashmir: Looking Back at Happier Times
(Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons)

Matching the moods of Kashmir’s changing seasons, through quintessentially O.P. Nayyar compositions, Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle sang one flirtatious song after another that made the film a ‘super-duper hit’ in film parlance. So many decades later, it’s still impossible to choose one favourite song from this film. Would it be 'Hey! Lakhon hain nighaon mein' or 'Banda parwar' or the absolutely delightful duet 'Humdum mere, khel na jaano'?

Following the trend, in 1964, producer-director Shakti Samanta wooed viewers with 'Kashmir Ki Kali', again a film embellished with songs shot amongst the chinars and pine trees of a state that seemed untouched by man.

Shammi Kapoor, repeated playing a flamboyant urbanite (in Junglee, too, he was one), who has escaped from his mother to the salubrious climes of Kashmir. This time, he serenades a delicate, dimpled, flower seller (a very young, petite Sharmila Tagore), with a languid 'Yeh dekh ke dil jhooma, Li pyaar ne angadayee, Diwana hua badal.' Coyly, the flower girl responds with 'Jab tum se nazar takarayee sanam, Jasbaat ka ek toofan utha'; and runs away, nimbly, into a paddle-boat on the Dal Lake, with the hero following suit. The romance continues as the two boats draw up next to each other, and the hero reaches out for her lace dupatta. Sung by Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle, to O.P. Nayyar’s intoxicating composition, the song is palpably sensuous.

The next year, another Kapoor, Shashi, enchanted ticket-paying film buffs with Jab Jab Phool Khile, playing an innocent, Kashmiri boatman, who falls in love with a rich city-girl (Nanda). When he breaks into dance with a deliriously happy Affoo Khudaa, 'Tum ko hum pe pyar ayaa', cinematographer Taru Dutt enhances the mood with a panoramic sweep of earth and sky; soft, blue clouds, fluffy sheep and all.

In 1965, Ramanand Sagar made Arzoo, an emotional saga of found, lost and found love, set largely in his home territory of Kashmir. Sadhana, in stylish, fitted churidar-kurtas, and the equally stylish Rajendra Kumar made an attractive pair and the songs they lip-synced to became very popular. Aji humse bachkar kahan jaiyega sings the hero as he glides along the Dal Lake, and reaches out to the heroine who is in another boat. Momentarily, their boats come together and then drift apart as a setting sun bathes the sky with an orange glow.

Romancing Kashmir: Looking Back at Happier Times
Nobody complained about repetitive sequences because viewers loved the visual treat.

And so, the audience sat mesmerised, yet again, through the G. P. Sippy-produced Mere Sanam, which released in the same year as Arzoo. Asha Parekh plays the coquette as she leads Biswajeet around dark-leafed pine trees, with a teasing 'Jaaiye, aap Kkahan jayenge.' Those not acquainted with the escapist nature of these candy-floss entertainers, scoff at ‘dancing around trees’; but film enthusiasts loved being transported to a world far removed from their humdrum lives.

In 1968, in Haseena Maan Jayegee, the ever-charming Shashi Kapoor and the Barbie doll-like Babita get intimate through melody, played out, yet again, amidst the solitude-providing pine trees; and then declare their love in the open, under a clear-blue sky. A full-throated 'Bekhudi mein sanam, Uthh gaye jo kadam, Aa gaye paas hum' rings across the valley while N. Satyen’s camera pans the undulating meadows, gurgling streams and stately trees. Those were innocent times, and a lot could be conveyed through songs sung in Nature’s lap, without resorting to explicit scenes.

And so, all through the scintillating ’60s, one filmmaker after another took his unit to the state that had enchanted even Jahangir, the Mughal emperor who had expressed his love for Nur Jahan by creating the ‘abode of love’, the exquisitely-landscaped Shalimar Bagh, where poet Amir Khusrau’s famous lines, inscribed on a plaque, in Urdu, states - If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.

In the 1970s and 80s, filmmakers like Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra, J. Om Prakash, Gulzar and Rahul Rawail continued the tradition of filming romantic sequences in Jahangir’s favourite land, but, gradually, in the 1990s and after, darker films gained precedence over love ditties.

Also, the logistics of making a film in the state of Jammu and Kashmir got fraught with security issues.

When Yash Chopra returned to the valley in 2012, after a long gap, to shoot Jab Tak Hain Jaan, the state authorities provided him with a three-tier security.

But when Meghna Gulzar took her unit of Raazi, in 2017, to the state where she had, as a child, spent memorable holidays with her parents, she says the security measures were no more than what they asked for when shooting in Punjab. “Everyone was very warm; and it was very idyllic,” she recounts, emotionally.

However, Meghna’s experience might be an exceptional case because filmmakers are not exactly making a beeline to Kashmir. And it might be a long time, alas, before a loud, unfettered Yahoo echoes, once again, across its magnificent, snow-clad peaks.

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