I don’t think there is anyone of my generation who would not have liked to see Kashmir, the paradise on earth, and spend some days in the valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks and chinara and the Dal Lake and other scenic spots made popular by painters, writers , poets and especially filmmakers-Ali Peter John
We who couldn’t even dream of going to Kashmir were satisfied and even very happy to see Kashmir in films like “Kashmir Ki Kali” and other films which believed that showing Kashmir was the best way of drawing in the audience.
So, how does a boy like me react when his editor tells him that he has to fly to Srinagar and spend 3 days in the land about which a great poet had written, “if there is heaven, it is here, it is here , it is here”?
I was assigned to cover the shooting of a film called “Poonam” with the two new stars , Raj Babbar and Poonam Dhillon. Naturally , my joy knew no bounce.
I had taken an early morning Indian Airlines flight to Srinagar and Raj Babbar and Poonam were on the same flight.
It was the first time Raj Babbar was taking a flight and was shocked and even a little scared when the pilot invited him into the cockpit.
Raj asked me if it was okay if he accepted the pilot’s invitation. I told him it was an honour for anyone to be allowed entry into the cockpit of a flight.
He kept looking at me as he walked towards the cockpit like a sheep being led to the slaughter house. He however came back smiling and told me , “oopar se duniyaa kitni ajeeb lagti hain”.
We landed at Srinagar Airport and my eyes were dazzled when I saw the Himalayaan peaks which I had only seen in photographs, paintings or films.
I was still lost in the Himalayaan peaks when a heafty woman in uniform started frisking me as if I was some revolutionary , a thief or a terrorist( a word which was not as popular as it is now) .
To say that I was not scared of shocked because of what the woman in uniform and carrying a gun didn’t make an impact on me would be lying . We all had to go through the fierce grilling at the Airport.
As we drove through the streets of Srinagar , we could feel the choking atmosphere of palpable fear all around, but we somehow landed at the Broadway hotel which was the only 5-star hotel and was owned by a powerful Congress leader called D. P . Dhar who was close to both Mrs Indira Gandhi and “the lion of Kashmir” Shaikh Abdullah.
The stars , Raj and Poonam were given sweets in the hotel while I and my fellow photographer, Rakesh Shreshta were put up in a small and dingy second grade hotel .
It didn’t make any difference to me, but Rakesh knew that I belonged to “Screen” told me that if I put pressure on the producer , we could be accommodated at the Broadway Hotel too .
And that is what happened . we were shifted from that second grade hotel to a five star hotel and were given individual suites.
It was the first time that I experienced the power of the word influence and realized how I was an “anari “ like Raj Kapoor was in Hrishikhesh Mukherjee’s film “Anari”
Raj and Poonam were to shoot for a romantic song shot in a shikaara on the Dal Lake. It was hardly known when a crowd of slogan shouting men approached the Dal Lake .
Some of the men came to the director Harmesh Malhotra and told him that they would not allow the shooting to proceed unless Poonam was sent to them.
There was panic on the Dal Lake and the shooting had to be called off and Poonam was taken to the hotel under tight security.
And when we were having tea , there was news about Income Tax raids all over Kashmir and especially in Srinanagr and on all the properties of Shaikh Abdullah.
There were 250 IT officers who had swooped down on the valley form New Delhi and they were all put up at the Broadway Hotel, which was a sign for the entire unit from Bombay to leave the hotel and there was no place for us in any other hotel .
The shooting had to be abandoned and the producer was not only to lose one hell of a lot of money , but even had to plan his shooting all over again .
We managed to have glimpses of Gulmarg and Pahelgaon before we could take the afternoon flight to Bombay. It was such a relief to the back home in Bombay. And they called Kashmir the heaven on earth!
MAINE BAHOT SAARE KHWAABO KO MARTE HUYE DEKHAA HAIN. LEKIN KASHMIR KAA MERAA KHWAAB AISAA MARA KE MUJHE AB PHIR USS JANNAT PAR UTARNE KAA DIL HI NEHI KARTAA. MERE LIYE MERAA SABSE SUNDOR SHAHAR HI BAHAT HAIN.
More Photos of Raj Babbar and Poonam Dhillon: