Kashmir in new fight to woo film makers

by AFP/Izhar Wani, Apr 16, 2003 | Destinations: China / India / Pakistan / Kashmir Region / Islamabad

Srinagar, India, April 13, 2003 - India's picturesque state of Kashmir is offering cheap helicopter rides and armed protection to shed its "killing fields" image and regain its position as a top film location. The scenic Himalayan region this week invited top Bollywood producers to assess possibilities for filming in the picture-postcard settings of snow-capped mountains, white-water streams and serene lakes.

"I have held fruitful discussions with them (the producers)," said Kashmir's tourism minister Ghulam Hassan Mir. "They have promised to come to Kashmir for shooting their movies."

Led by noted Hindi movie maker Yash Chopra, some half-a-dozen film producers on Thursday watched a ski-championship in Gulmarg -- Kashmir's favourite winter resort. Some even joined in the fun and rode ski-scooters.

Before the separatist uprising erupted 14 years ago, Kashmir was popular with movie makers as well as local and foreign tourists. The violence that has now claimed over 38,000 lives brought down the curtains on both industries.

Mir is keen to revive tourism as well as the film industry. He said he believed the movie makers invited here were convinced that it was possible to resume filming in Kashmir. "After their visit they have felt the situation here was conducive for their professional activity," the minister told AFP.

However, even as the film producers were taking in the scenery, a bomb ripped through the entrance of the main gate of Srinagar's Mughal-built Nishat garden -- one of the favourite film locations in the state. Police blamed militants for the explosion, which inflicted no casualties. Despite the blast, the government has promised security for film crews and cheap chopper rides in an area where land access may not always be easy because of the mountainous terrain.

In the last fortnight a Bollywood film crew shot a few sequences of the Hindi film "Agni Pankh" (Wings of Fire) on the shores of lake Dal. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a Kashmiri Hindu movie producer, said the situation had taken a positive turn since he made his latest film, Mission Kashmir, in the region three years ago. "Kashmir is an extremely good location for film shooting," he said.

Yash Chopra said he was impressed with the bid to woo producers back by the new Kashmir government -- which came to power in November last year. "This place is more natural and beautiful," said Chopra. "Things in Kashmir have improved and we would like to come here for shooting our films." Chopra said he had come to Kashmir for the first time in 1958 as a tourist, but six years later returned to make a film.

"I have always found Kashmir an extremely beautiful place," he said. "I would love to visit the valley again with my film crew." The Muslim rebellion against Indian rule could also provide plenty of storylines for Bollywood, but at least for the time being, the authorities are keen to push the beauty of Kashmir rather than the bloodshed.

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