By Aarti Tikoo Singh
One of the biggest highlights of my childhood in Kashmir was that one day our teacher at Army school in Anantnag announced that the students of the lower classes had the opportunity to be in a movie with Bollywood superstars who were coming with a production crew to shoot for a film in Kashmir.
It was a star-studded movie: Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Rajinikanth, Sridevi, and Jaya Prada. The movie was called 'Farishtay' (Angels). As a child, the only name that left my heart racing in that phenomenal list of actors was Sridevi. I felt butterflies in my stomach thinking that I will get to see her, be next to her and be a part of her movie. I could see stars and the moon while the teacher at the school was addressing the class.
But it was a big bummer! I did not qualify because the movie required school kids of a certain height for a song. I was taller, at the time, to other girls and boys of my class and I also could not act. I wished I had been short; I was heartbroken. But the very fact that many of my school mates got the opportunity to act in the movie with my favourite star actor Sridevi, was a thrill in its own.
In the tumult of displacement and destitution in 1990 when we were driven out of our homes from Kashmir, I often wondered about 'Farishtay'. The movie was released in 1991, but I could not watch it. Part of my family was in a refugee camp and we in a one-room hovel. Going to cinema was a luxury that one could not afford.
Years later, I watched snippets of the movie and that one special song where my schoolmates appeared on the big screen along with Sridevi on YouTube. I was in tears because nothing could be more ironical -- the song was about Indian patriotism in the backdrop of old Kashmiri houses, some probably belonged to Kashmiri Hindus who were banished from Kashmir a year or two after the movie's shooting in Kashmir was over.
Along with their expulsion, cinema halls in Kashmir were bombed and razed down by jihadis paid by Pakistan. People at the forefront of Pakistan's jihad in Kashmir soon issued threats, warnings and diktats against movies, theatre and Bollywood magazines, declaring them 'unIslamic'. My family was targeted and threatened because we used to be the distributors of newspapers, magazines, comics in the district and used to run a small business of VHS 'video and video player on rent' along with it.
When the movie was released in 1991, Kashmir looked like Afghanistan under Taliban. Bollywood stayed quiet; after all, art and artists are supposedly apolitical. Creative people don't like to be dragged into politics. So after the economic liberalization and the boom, Bollywood was shooting in alternative landscapes -- Switzerland, France and other parts of Europe.
Every big film production and superstar of the industry who would come to Kashmir for shooting till 1989 forgot about it. Indian cinema in Kashmir setting remained just a memory for my father's generation who had grown up watching film shootings of Arzoo, Junglee, Kashmir Ki Kali, Silsila, Satte Pe Satta, Kabhi Kabhi, Bobby and others. A late uncle who passed away prematurely after struggling through displacement, always boasted that he watched India's biggest Superstar Amitabh Bachhan performing for his blockbuster Laawaris at Oberoi hotel in Srinagar.
In the last decade or so, Bollywood returned to Kashmir slowly but not with the same fervour or frequency. Some filmmakers and actors decided to take political positions on Kashmir and some stayed away altogether.
But what no one told their audience is that in the last 30 years, after Kashmir's social fabric was gutted, thousands killed, thousands rendered homeless by jihadis sponsored by Pakistan, and Kashmir's landscape deserted by Bollywood for greener pastures, India reached out to Pakistan to make peace with Pakistan. So we heard a lot about how cultural exchange, economic ties and social capital will bring peace and we all believed it.
Peace didn't come. But Kashmir came to the heart of Bollywood in 2008 when jihadis struck Mumbai, killing and maiming innocent Indians in rich and poor venues. After the initial outburst, India went back to its normal state of affairs and we called it 'resilience'. Since then business has been usual.
And no one is still ready in Bollywood to tell naive Indians in awe of film stars, that behind the Indo-Pak 'aman ki asha' was the 'aman ki tamasha' -- a nexus between the entertainment industry, the Mumbai underworld, the Pakistani spy agency ISI and Kashmir -- that benefited the businesses and businessmen in India and across the border.
The Kashmiri separatist diaspora, which is in cahoots with the ISI, runs businesses in Dubai, Europe, the US and the UK. They are the ones who reach out to our gullible Bollywood stars and superstars who have the capacity to invest abroad. That's where the nexus begins. So we watch movies, we make stars and superstars, who in turn go and hand over our hard earned money to the agents of Pakistan to run their businesses abroad, and then Pakistani agents donate to Pakistan charities which in turn fund the death and destruction of innocent people in Kashmir and Mumbai.
It is no coincidence that David Headley, the main Pakistani agent and the architect behind the 26/11 terror attacks, was a close pal of many Bollywood filmmakers and actors. The biggest nexus of the Pakistani deep state is in Bollywood. Until it is broken, 'jhanda ooncha rahe hamara' in Kashmir will just be wishful thinking. And there is a way to do that.
Indian filmmakers and stars, for once, have a huge opportunity to set things right after the nullification of Article 370 -- go invest in Kashmir -- set up film schools, cinemas, theatre, hotels, hospitals, colleges and universities there. Make Kashmir a happy place once again; build a better India for your children.