TV actor Imran Khan is a regular in Kashmir nowadays. Thanks to his new travel film Sargoshiyan shot in picturesque valley. Saima Bhat reports
Television actor turned Bollywood director Imran Khan, still remembers his first visit to Kashmir. It was in 1983, almost half-a-decade before armed insurgency erupted in Kashmir. “I remember watching Nikah in Neelam cinema with my family,” said Khan. Despite strong yearning, Khan’s next visit happened almost two decades later.
When in mid-90s Khan was asked to play pro-freedom Kashmiri’s role in a TV serial titled Ajnabi, he readily agreed. It was his ticket to visit his dreamland, Kashmir. But the joy proved short-lived when the shooting was done in Poonch and Rajouri instead of Kashmir.
Next chance came when he was cast in hit TV serial Tara. But once again, the shooting was done in Kud, Batote and Patnitop. “It was because of security concerns,” said Khan.
Then finally, in 2007, Khan drove to Kashmir, Kargil, Drass and Leh for a travel show Travelxp. “This time I could explore the virgin beauty of Kashmir.”
The trip not only helped Khan realise his long-cherished dream of visiting Kashmir but also plan a film. “The film titled Sargoshiyan is based on travels through Kashmir,” said Khan.
Khan’s film revolves around two protagonists: a Kashmiri Pandit and a fashion photographer, both based in Mumbai.
The film starts, says Khan, with both protagonists frustrated with hectic lifestyle of Mumbai. Then, they take up an assignment to capture the scenic beauty of Kashmir for a local banks calendar. Once in Kashmir, the protagonists meet a local girl, a PHD scholar in Kashmir history. They all become friends with Khan, who plays a role in the film. “All the four characters then travel together to explore far-flung areas of Kashmir,” said Khan.
Unlike Haider or Bajrangi Bhaijan, Khan’s Sargoshiyan focuses on development. “My film explores Kashmir’s beauty and the love of its people,” said Khan. “I respect Kashmiris for living with dignity despite limited resources and conflict.”
Khan, who has been traveling through Kashmir since last nine years, finds Kashmiris Muslims quite unlike what Indian media portrays them. “It is beautiful to see Muslims perform last rites of a Pandit,” said Khan. This bonhomie features in Khan’s Sargoshiyan too. “In last two decades both Muslims and Hindus have suffered equally,” feels Khan.
In last 25 years of conflict tourism sector was a major hit, feels Khan. “It prompted a number of foreign countries to put advisories on Kashmir for their citizens,” said Khan. “Though my film I want to change that mindset.”
During a visit to Aru in Pahalgam, Khan met two women, both from US, who were trekking with a local guide. “They were satisfied with the overall experience in Kashmir,” said Khan, who asked them about their trip. “They never felt insecure while travelling in Kashmir.”
Khan feels that this side of Kashmir never gets highlighted. “Media only picks up negative stories from this part which kills tourism.”
What happened in Kashmir in last 25 years can happen anywhere in the world, feels Khan. “Be it a natural calamity or otherwise, Kashmir always gets bad press,” said Khan. “Did people stop visiting Paris or London after attacks took place there.”
Meanwhile, Khan’s Sargoshiyan, which will feature some local faces including Zameer Ashia, Zahoor Zaidi, Dawar, Tabrez Madni and Aneesa, is eighty percent done.
Sadly, says Khan, he had to get technicians, equipment, lighting etc. from Mumbai. “These things should have been available locally. That would help low budget filmmakers like me,” feels Khan. Other than shootings and travel, Khan, who is familiar with Srinagar city, spends time walking around the bund, playing polo and billiards. “I spend time in the gym too.”
Khan, who loves to drive around Srinagar in his car, feels bad about the pathetic condition of roads. “People here protest over almost everything. Why not protest strongly for good roads!”
Khan is all praises for Kashmir’s unique hospitality. “I have been offered food free of cost a number of times. Even people offer you help without bothering to know who you are,” said Khan.
Four decades back, when Yash Chopra and Shammi Kapoor were regulars here, Kashmir for sure would have been a paradise.