Srinagar, Picturesque Kashmir, India is reliving an old forgotten bond with Bollywood as director Vishal Bharadwaj shoots “Saat Khoon Maaf” here with his team. Not only there is palpable excitement among the local people but it has also revived memories of the time when the valley was much sought after by Hindi filmmakers.
For the last fortnight, the film unit has been shooting in the Mughal Gardens, the old city heritage house and in the campus of the University Of Kashmir.
“The film unit is also making some sequences inside the Tulip Garden in the city which is now in full bloom,” said an official of the local tourism department here.
Curious locals are thronging the location of Bharadwaj’s film and to keep them in control the state administration has provided security to the unit.
The fresh flower blooms of spring provide a beautiful backdrop for Bharadwaj’s film based on Ruskin Bond’s story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands” about a femme fatale who bumps off her seven spouses.
While Priyanka Chopra is in the lead in “Saat Khoon Maaf”, Naseeruddin Shah, John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Irrfan Khan, Anu Kapoor and Vivaan Shah will be seen as her husbands.
Compared to the 1970s and early 80s, very few movies are shot here nowadays. In the last two years, Santosh Sivan’s 2008 movie “Tahaan” was shot in the valley and Rahul Dholakia too came here with actress Bipasha Basu to shoot “Lamhaa”.
Before separatist violence plagued the valley, dozens of film units would come here every year.
Some of the best known Bollywood blockbusters shot here include “Andaz”, “Mere Sanam”, “Junglee”, “Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon”, “Do Badan”, “Arzoo”, “Kashmir Ki Kali”, “Kal Aaj Aur Kal”, “Silsila” and “Roti”. Even the well-known Hollywood film “A Passage to India”, based on E.M. Forster’s novel, was shot in the old areas of the city.
“That was not only the golden period of the Bollywood film industry but also the golden period for the film fans of Kashmir. We could see our beloved film stars and take their autographs,” said Shabir Ahmad Bhat, 55, a resident of the Wazir Bagh area here.
“I still have the autographs of Amitabh Bachchan, Shammi Kapoor, Pran, Asha Parekh and some other heartthrobs of the 1970s,” he added.
The names of legendary matinee idols like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Ashok Kumar still rekindle fond memories among elderly Kashmiris.
“Police had to intervene when fans literally mobbed the unit of Randhir Kapoor’s ‘Kal Aaj Aur Kal’ for a glimpse of Babita at the local Emporium Garden here,” said Farooq Ahmad Khan, a local engineer here.
“I remember the shooting had to be cancelled for the day and re-started the next day after the authorities provided additional security to the film unit,” he added.
Remembering the good old days, Gulam Nabi, a 65-year-old retired headmaster, said: “I stood outside a cinema hall in the city for the whole night to get a ticket for ‘Mughal-e-Azam’. The impact that K. Asif’s magnum opus had on me is still fresh and vivid.
“Dilip Kumar’s rebellious love for Anarkali, Prithviraj Kapoor’s steaming anger to ensure the heir to the Mughal empire doesn’t marry a courtesan and Madhubala’s lovelorn guts to speak in front of the emperor – all of them were so majestically and powerfully portrayed that the film is rightly remembered as a creation of art.”
Abdul Majid Wani, 70, a retired newspaper agent, narrated an interesting friendship between one of Bollywood’s most favourite villains, Ajit, and a teashop owner here.
“I would wait outside a shop ‘Sultanjoo and Sons’ in city centre Lal Chowk where Ajit would come for a cup of traditional Kashmiri salt tea. The white turbaned Sultanjoo would serve him steaming hot tea from a samovar with a touch of Kashmiri hospitality,” said Wani.
“Over the years, Ajit and Sultanjoo became close friends and Ajit would step into his shop every time he would come here. Those were the days I can never forget, my friend.”