Veteran Bollywood actor Sanjay Khan, who has shot dozens of movies in Kashmir and has been a regular visitor here since 1964 feels Kashmir has changed a lot during these decades. On his latest visit to Kashmir recently, Khan in a free wheeling chat with Greater Kashmir said that most people can't imagine what it was like to be here in 60's. 'It was a different world. Everywhere I went there was a big smile on the faces of people. It was a joyous atmosphere," said Khan, who started his film career with Haqeeqat, a movie based on Sino-Indian war. The film directed by Chetan Anand was shot in Ladakh and Kashmir.
Thereafter he continued visiting Kashmir. Khan feels that Kashmir has come a long way from the celebratory looking atmosphere of 60s. 'Kashmir used to be more relaxed when the first time I came here. It had a smile on its face. We drove from here via Kargil. We stayed in Srinagar for a day. I used to see a broad big smile on the face of Kashmir. Now I don't see that smile anymore, that smile is missing," said Khan adding that there are grim faces everywhere. "It pains me." He feels pain in the air and gloom on the faces of Kashmiris has become sort of permanent feature here.
In a philosophical note Khan says that it is hard to describe Kashmir now. "What can I say what has replaced that smile. There are certain things in life it is better to be understood than spoken about. You can understand and draw your own conclusion," sighed Khan.
The actor has a special relationship with Kashmir as it was the location which became a popular feature of his hit movies. "Some of my blockbusters have been shot here like Ek Phool Do Mali, Mela, Inteqaam, Anokhi Pehchan and many more films," said Khan adding that everything is fresh in his mind.
Khan, who is also producer and director wanted to make a movie here but the circumstances didn't allow. His relationship with Kashmir is also special as his sister Dilshad is married in Kashmir and lives here.
Khan was recently in Kashmir in the run-up to the release of his much anticipated autobiography curiously titled The best mistakes of my life. He termed the book as his second reliving of the past as during writing this book he had to recollect every good and bad thing that happened with him. He also had time too imagine how his life would have been different if some of his earlier life decisions would have been something else.
"Penguin publishers approached me for the book. They wanted me to tell my story as it had everything in it right from stardom to fame to tragedy," said Khan. "They wanted to document the facts of my life. I agreed and thus went on to write and relive my life again."
When asked about the title of the book, Khan says he respects the intelligence of readers and one will find the justification of the tile in the 18th chapter. The book is slated to be released on 28th October. Khan felt that writing the book was more difficult and challenging, than making a movie. "Making movie is a creative task where a director has to just put 18 % of effort and rest is accomplished by the team. But writing an autobiography is a solitary exercise, a challenging one," he said.
Though he has acted in dozens of hit movies but he is remembered in Kashmir for the huge TV serial made on the life of Tipu Sultan. In 1990 he starred in and directed the famous historical television series The Sword of Tipu Sultan. People in Kashmir and elsewhere used to be glued to TV sets to watch the series.
Khan's connection with Tipu Sultan and Mysore is old as he was born on 3 January 1940 in Bangalore, which was part of Kingdom of Mysore at that time. But the real inspiration came four decades later when he had the chance to read Bhagwan Gidwan's novel on Life and Times of Tipu Sultan. "I have a habit of reading new books and once in 1982 I chanced upon a book The Sword of Tipu Sultan by Bhagwan S Gidwani at a airport shop. I was curious about the author and his description showed that he was son of a hindu Mahasabha leader of Karachi. The book was thrilling and I finished it in the flight itself on way to Delhi. I tracked Gidwani and found him a brilliant person," said Khan. "Gidwani told me that he had once met a young scholar in London doing research on four kings in the history of mankind who died on a battlefield defending their motherland. Gidwani guessed Prithviraj Chauhan but the scholar told him it was Tipu Sultan. The curious Gidwani went on to research about Tipu Sultan and ended up writing the book."
Gidwani's novel sold around 200,000 copies and has been translated into many languages and reprinted in 44 editions.
Khan saw all elements of a good story in it and decided to dramatise the novel and roped in Gidwani for screenplay.
The 60 episode series became one of the most popular shows in that era. But it didn't come without its challenges. Right after shooting few episodes, petitions were filed in Supreme Court against the telecast of this drama. The petitioners argued that it was not based on the real life and deeds of Tipu Sultan. The Supreme Court gave a judgement that drama could be telecast with notice that this serial is a function and has nothing to do either with the life of rule of Tipu Sultan.
"The BJP element of the then VP Singh government wanted to stall the telecast. Though I had clearance from Doordarshan, but they wanted to study the 8 episodes before giving green signal. The tapes were sent to Nagpur for clearance. Fortunately I had a friend there who cleared the serial by terming it work of patriotism," said Khan.
The challenges during making of this serial did not end here. A major fire accident took place on 8 February 1989, in the Premier Studios of Mysore where the drama was being shot. 62 people died in the tragedy. Sanjay Khan himself suffered major burns and had to spend 13 months in hospital and undergo 72 surgeries.
"I remember I was outside and suddenly there was commotion inside. I rushed inside and saw everything in flames. As I was directing people outside to safety, suddenly something hit my head from behind and I fell. The flames covered my body and I tried to cover my head with my hands," remembers Khan. "With 65 percent third degree burns doctors told me you will never be able to act again. They said only one in billion survives such an incident. But I was aching to come back. No matter what happens I decided to make a comeback."
Not fully healed, when Khan came back for shooting he had to ride a horse. His limbs were suffering loss of sensation. 'It was 55 degree temperature. When I mounted the horse after some time I had to let go of sword at some point and rein in the horse, but couldn't do anything. The horse was about to jump into thorny bushes and with great pain I let go of sword and stopped the horse just in time. This moment was my rebirth and I endured everything to complete the mission," said Khan.
Regarding the continuing annual controversy around Tipu Sultan, Khan said, "this is the irony of this country. Each time birthday of Tipu Sultan comes, it becomes a political football. They term him an anti-hindu. I ask them if Tipu has cut some Hindu heads, he has also cut Muslim heads," said Khan.
Khan has detailed everything in his book, which he has dedicated "to the nation which has no historian, to the youth of India who shall be told the truth and to the man whose history owes a rehabilitation."
While speaking on the current political scene in India Khan says, "Ajat Shatru imprisoned his father Bhimbisara, Chandragupt Maurya killed his father, Ashoka killed hundred of his brothers to get the throne and later killed one lakh hindus in Kalinga. And some elements keep on targeting Tipu Sultan as if Muslims are the only ones who are chopping heads," said Khan. "Let me ask them a question. Give me a proof that in India's history a purely hindu army has ever fought a purely muslim army. It was never a religious thing. Both sides always had hindus and muslims be it Rajputs and Mughals or Marathas and Pathans. It is not that Hindus have been pure all along and muslims are savages and untouchables."
Terming the current situation as dangerous for the country, Khan said that except for needling the Muslims, BJP will make great friends with them. "Muslims are 250 million in India and can't be thrown out. If this glue holding all of communities together is destroyed then India will become 50 small countries and another East India Company will come to conquer us," said Khan. "Political football is a dangerous thing and not good for the nation. Welfare and regard must be the highest law to strengthen the nation."
Khan said that every nation has its problem and every problem has a solution. "I am an optimistic person. Even for Kashmir there is solution. But the big thing is that there should be the will of people and leadership to delver what is legitimately right for the people of the land. They are not begging for it, they are only asking for their rights" said Khan. "I am in idealist, I believe in Plato. The senators of Rome would display high level of ethics. The PM would be the first servant of nation. The nation should be served. The grievances of the poorest of the poor, weakest of the weak should be first taken as priority."
Khan advocates uniform rights based approach to all the people. "The rights of people cannot be trampled. The perfume of the Jasmine garden cannot be contaminated with the stench of human blood," said Khan. "What is the legitimate right of people of land should be given to them."