Kashmir has been a part of Bollywood films since time immemorial. There is no doubt that it is one of the most beautiful locations in the country, and filmmakers have been milking it since the start of Indian cinema. However, there has been a major shift in the way the Himalayan valleys have been represented on film. It all started after the Kashmir Insurgence of 1989.
In the first three or four decades after India’s independence, Kashmir used to be the perfect romantic location for all movies. Whether it was a romantic song or it was a honeymoon sequence or a boy-meet-girl love story, Kashmir was one of the most favourite locations for filmmakers. So much so movies like ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ and ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’ were even set entirely in Kashmir. Actors from Shammi Kapoor to Shashi Kapoor to Joy Mukherjee to Bishwajit were all seen romancing beautiful heroines in these Kashmir valleys.
The majority of these films focused on Kashmir's romantic, serene, and escapist nature. The key scenes featured lush green rolling hills and verdant meadows, gently flowing streams, snow-capped mountains and nature in all its splendour. It was an escapism land, removed from the conflict and was strangely kept depoliticised in the movies. Kashmiri characters were also portrayed in a generalised and non-religious manner like the houseboat owners, generic tribal characters, or simply local residents engulfed by their beautiful surroundings, and many other such characters.
The location was so much in demand that, at a time, there were at least six-seven shoots happening in Kashmir. The number went up more so during the winters when all the locales used to get covered in snow. There was a colloquial saying from that period which stated that the entire film industry used to be chilling together in Kashmir during the winters.
Despite the 1965 and the 1971 Indo-Pak war, there was hardly any hatred or any separatist behaviour shown till the start of the 1990s. Things slowly started changing in Kashmir after the Insurgency of 1989.
Films started moving away from the romantic feels of Kashmir and moved more towards the serious politics of the state. From being the backdrop, Kashmir suddenly became the main plotline of the story. The gentle happy go lucky attitude of the Kashmiri locals gave way to characters who were shown as potential terrorists. Very quickly the romance and love gave way to guns and danger. The shots of tribal women grazing sheep in the valley were soon changed to heavily armed forces. It seemed like the entire snow-capped mountains had suddenly started dripping blood.
Films like ‘Roja’ and ‘Dil Se’ pushed the boundaries to showcase this narrative. ‘Border’ and ‘LoC: Kargil’ went on to show actual wars. ‘Mission Kashmir’, ‘Fanaa’, ‘Fiza’ brought to light the narrative of the deprived and wronged Kashmiri youth. Many of these films were lapped onto by the audiences whereas many of these went on to become dead turkeys at the box-office as well.
While in the late 2000s this impetus towards films based in Kashmir had somewhat taken a backseat. But once again, it again came to the forefront with ‘Haider’, ‘Fitoor’, ‘Raazi’, ‘Shikaara’, 'Hamid' and ‘Shershah’, in the last few years.
Also, with the advent of OTT platforms, there are numerous shows that are coming up every second day, and they all try to sell some or the other aspects of this perception of Kashmir to the audiences.
It’s not that we haven’t had anything romantic in Kashmir, but it has been far and few between. ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ and ‘The Notebook’ tried to bring back the age-old romance of Kashmir. With more and more new-age filmmakers moving away from the big cities and going towards rural towns to shoot their projects, it shouldn’t be long before we once again start seeing the romance return to this ‘heaven on earth’.