NEW DELHI — A top film producer from India’s Hindi film industry - popularly known as Bollywood - is in Indian Kashmir to shoot his latest film. The presence of top Bollywood stars is being seen as a sign that peace has returned to the scenic Himalayan region, which has grappled with two-decades of Islamic separatist insurgency.
Dancing and singing on the verdant mountain slopes of Kashmir, Bollywood stars charmed audiences in romantic movies shot in the 1970s and 80s.
Tourists flocked to the region, which came to be known as India’s Switzerland.
The Islamic separatist insurgency, which erupted in 1990, scared away both visitors and film producers from India’s only Muslim majority region.
Bollywood filmmakers moved to the Swiss Alps and other foreign locations to shoot their films.
Now, one of India’s top producers, Yash Chopra, has returned to Kashmir, after 25 years, to shoot his latest film.
The movie stars Bollywood’s top hero, Shahrukh Khan, and popular heroines, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma.
And, whether it is the travel industry or tour operators, there is euphoria among Kashmiris, who hope that the presence of top Bollywood names will send a signal that militant violence has ebbed in the Himalayan region.
They are also hoping that Kashmir will once again provide the setting for love and romance.
The head of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, Rauf Tramboo says there is a lot of curiosity about the film’s story, rumored to be a love triangle. He hopes that Yash Chopra, well known for his romantic films, will make a “happy” film about the valley.
“During the period of turmoil, some movies were made about the militancy and all that, which we did not like at all," said Chopra. "We are happy that Yash Chopra is back to Kashmir again and we hope he will keep his tradition alive by shooting only the romantic movies.”
Bollywood, which is hugely popular in India and neighboring countries, has always helped lure visitors to the spots where films are shot. As a result, many countries such as Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand and Ireland offer incentives to Bollywood producers to shoot films in their countries.
Now, Kashmir is hoping to reap a similar dividend. And, tweets from top star Shahrukh Khan “how beautiful is Kashmir…feel blessed to be here” will only help.
“It’s like heaven on earth," said Kamal Nahata, who heads a film trade magazine in Mumbai. "Stars, everybody used to enjoy shooting in Kashmir. The very fact that they have ventured to shoot after so many years will send a signal that at least it is safer now than before.”
Tourists have been returning to Kashmir in recent years, reviving an industry which was the mainstay of its economy until the separatist insurgency erupted. The region saw two million visitors this year as the Indian plains suffered one of their longest and hottest summers and as Kashmir remained free of violence.
Tramboo says as visitors flock back, there is a sense of optimism.
“We had a very wonderful season this time," said Tramboo. "So far, so good. It is the peaceful summer we had last year, 2011, which encouraged more and people to come to Kashmir this year. And, we are expecting more, more and more tourists to come in December this year.”
But the shadow of militancy remains. In a region which still has a heavy military presence and the sight of bunkers is common, there is tight security for the film’s shooting. Police commandos and paramilitary forces are guarding the locations where the film is being shot - Gulmarg, Pahalgam and the Dal Lake. Fans have returned disappointed without being able to get a peek of the film stars.
More than 60,000 people died in Kashmir during the two decades the conflict raged.