Srinagar, Sept 17: Bollywood actor-director Imran Khan's love for Kashmir is unconditional. While filmmakers are making a beeline for shootings in the valley of late especially after the recent launch of the maiden J&K Film Policy by the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, which has incentivized film shootings in the union territory, Imran's love for the 'Paradise on Earth' goes back to 2016 when he shot his debut directorial 'Sarghoshiyan' entirely here despite the challenging circumstances.
Imran has been visiting Kashmir since 2007 when he was shooting for a TV soap. In 2009, he hosted TV channel Travel XT's travel film on the Gulmarg Winter Festival that year, which played a key role in the publicity part of the gala.
So, what motivated Imran to frequent the vale while the mainstream Bollywood gave it a cold shoulder? "My love for Kashmir. The love I have received from common Kashmiris is unparalleled, " Imran quipped in an exclusive chat with Greater Kashmir over phone from Mumbai.
Imran is no ordinary Bollywood actor. He made his debut in the 1991 film 'Inteha Pyar Ki' directed by renowned director J K Bihari, who had earlier introduced Bollywood superstar Salman Khan in the 1988 family drama 'Biwi Ho To Aisi'.
'Inteha Pyar Ki' saw Imran sharing the screen with veteran actors Rishi Kapoor, Asrani, Shafi Inamdar and Satyendra Kapoor besides others. "In fact, the release of the film had clashed with Shah Rukh Khan's film that year, " Imran vividly recalls.
While he may not have enjoyed the fandom of the big Khans of Bollywood, Imran acknowledges that to debut in a film directed by a director of the caliber of JK Bihari in itself was a big recognition. "After Salman, the next Khan he had introduced was Imran, " Imran said.
What distinguishes Imran from typical Bollywood films though is his love for parallel cinema. Perhaps that is the reason why he has remained on the sidelines. And when it comes to Bollywood's portrayal of Kashmir, Imran is particularly disapproving.
"When it comes to Kashmir, a typical Bollywood film will either show armed militants or a bomb blast or someone unfurling Pakistani flags, which is not Kashmir. We can't generalize things. That could be a small segment of the people. I have found common Kashmiris loving and educated. I think the female literacy in Kashmir is way better than many states outside, " Imran said.
While a typical film tends to victimize Kashmiri Pandits, who left the valley in the wake of armed militancy in the 1990s, 'Sarghoshiyan', which also revolves around the subject, shows a Kashmiri Pandit boy, whose parents also left the valley after the eruption of militancy, returning to his roots upon his random visit to Kashmir with his friend.
"Now I realize why I was distraught back in Mumbai and couldn't settle on a job. It was because home was calling, " Aryan Raina played by Hasan Zaidi tells his friend Vikram Roy portrayed by Indraneil Sengupta, who is on a photography assignment in Kashmir towards the end of the film.
Aryan's grandfather, Pandit Raina, played by Alok Nath, who prefers to stay back in the valley after militancy erupts, thinks that leaving Kashmir would amount to ditching the homeland. His last rites are performed by the local Muslims besides Aryan who is informed by the Muslim neighbours beforehand.
The film also showcased unexplored tourist destinations including Aharbal waterfall and Mughal Road in south Kashmir besides some villages too.
Imran said that people from outside places have certain prejudices about Kashmiris, but experience an altogether different picture when they come here.
Apart from people, many places, too, are unexplored, he said. "Filmmakers don't move beyond usual tourist destinations like Gulmarg or Pahalgam. In fact there are little villages that are unexplored apart from many tourist destinations, " he said.
Imran recently uploaded an 11 minute odd video on YouTube urging people to visit Kashmir.
Imran hoped that the new J&K Film Policy launched on August 5 this year which marked the 2nd anniversary of Article 370 abrogation, will let filmmakers exploit unexplored locations and help encourage local artists in lieu of the subsidies announced by the government.
The actor-director particularly praised the one-window permission mechanism under the new Film Policy he said has done away with the complex permission system in the past.
"The new Film Policy will also help local businesses and tourism apart from the artists, who will now get to hone their skills. Hopefully, the local cinema will also flourish under the new Film Policy" Imran added.
He said the subsidies per se will motivate film makers at a time when businesses have been hit by the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
Imran's show 'Apna Time Bhi Aayega' is currently airing on Zee TV. Besides, there are two web series featuring him coming up.
"But, my ultimate wish is to work in Kashmir. Our shoot is scheduled in October. Hopefully there will be many more projects coming up. And under the new Film Policy, it will be easier to shoot this time around, " he said.
Imran, who has extensively travelled in the valley besides Ladakh, said he wishes to make a travel film based on his time in the valley.