February 6, 2008 / 5:46 AM / 10 years ago

Kashmir's hills alive with sound of Bollywood

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - In a sure sign that separatist violence is waning in Kashmir, Bollywood actors are once again being spotted singing, dancing and coyly flirting in the region’s idyllic Himalayan countryside.

<p>Vehicles move under snow-covered trees after season's first heavy snowfall in Srinagar February 6, 2008. In a sure sign that separatist violence is waning in Kashmir, Bollywood actors are once again being spotted singing, dancing and coyly flirting in the region's idyllic Himalayan countryside. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli</p>

In 1964, the musical “Kashmir Ki Kali” inspired a thousand honeymoons with its shots of Shammi Kapoor trying to impress a girl with his trademark jerky dancing as they drift across a lake in separate gondolas, a chorus line floating in the background.

Dozens of other movies helped millions of Indians stuck in the sweltering plains to understand why Mughal emperors thought Kashmir was heaven on earth.

But a bloody uprising in the disputed region in 1989, claimed by both India and Pakistan, put an end to Bollywood’s Kashmiri romance.

For years, the Alps of Switzerland served as a substitute paradise for al fresco song numbers. Partly as a result of this, Switzerland now routinely tops polls of the most popular holiday and honeymoon destination for Indians.

But the tide once again seems to be turning.

Only three movies were shot in Indian Kashmir between 1998 and 2003, according to tourism officials. But then India and Pakistan began to talk about peace.

Since 2004, at least four Hindi-language films have been shot in the region, along with five movies from some of India’s other regional-language film industries, say tourism officials.

Some of those films acknowledge that paradise is no longer so innocent. While “Yahaan” (“Here”) in 2005 included de rigueur scenes of lovers floating across lakes, it also dealt with the insurgency and relations between Hindus and Muslims.

“BACK INTO THE VALLEY”

“If you’re talking about Kashmir and its problems there are still a hundred films to be made,” said Rahul Bose, an actor known for his serious roles outside the musical mainstream, although he doubted if Indian cinema was up to the task.

Bose shot a movie there last year and said it was a “fabulous experience,” although he would not discuss the plot.

“I spoke to a lot of drivers, hotel workers, people at the sites where we were shooting in villages, and there seemed to be a common desire to get people back into the valley,” he said by telephone.

Last year, tourist officials visited Mumbai, the country’s film capital, to urge filmmakers to head to the valley, promising free access to locations and armed escorts.

They hope that where actors go, tourists will follow.

Many Kashmiris, weary from years of firefights and bombs, were happy to see cameras roll once again in the troubled region.

“We are keeping fingers crossed -- one violent incident will spoil the whole tourist season and scare filmmakers again,” said Manzoor Ahmad Shah, a hotelier.

Bose acknowledged that even if violence has waned from its peak, Kashmir remains a difficult place, with frequent gun battles between Indian forces and separatist militants.

But he sees this as no reason to shun the Himalayan region.

“You could die crossing the road in Bombay,” he said, referring to the old name of Mumbai.

Additional reporting and editing by Jonathan Allen

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