Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bollywood in Gulmarg

Gulmarg Nostalgia-IX (Bollywood in Gulmarg)

One of the most interesting experiences during my stay in Gulmarg was the film shooting by scores of Bollywood teams. Almost four to five teams would descend on Gulmarg every winter. Most of the teams were not showing Gulmarg but were using the snowscape to depict some foreign location. Usually, the Indian hero would go abroad in the story and the producers used the Gulmarg scenery as that of a foreign ski resort. Gulmarg was undoubtedly scenic in winter. All the huts and hotels covered with huge amount of snow, long icicles hanging from the roof, and the pine trees covered in snow presented something not seen anywhere in India.

Nazir Bakshi of Shiraz Travels had absolute monopoly in conducting these film groups both in summer and winter. In summer they preferred Pahalgam which had some Indian touch. During winter their choicest destination was Gulmarg. Nazir Bakshi would be in touch with us for the facilitation of these groups. The visit of these film groups to Gulmarg had two interesting aspects. One was the creation of some local jobs for the people around Gulmarg and revenue to hotels etc. The other more interesting aspect was these actors and actresses being brought down to face the ground reality. All the glamour would disappear and they were forced to face the harsh realities of winter in Gulmarg. They were simply ordinary human beings there! It was very amusing to meet them after having seen them in the Bollywood movies. I had a number of personal encounters which were quite amusing as well as pathetic keeping in view the celluloid portraits of these people. Outside they presented a glamorous face while inside they were just like us with all the human weaknesses.

The first interesting encounter I had with Bollywood was rescuing the famous actress Rekha. She had come to Gulmarg for shooting some song sequences for a film. During that period there was heavy snowfall. The day she had to leave for Srinagar, the road from Gulmarg to Tangmarg was totally snowbound, and only four wheel drive vehicles with chains on the wheels could move on it. While going to the Tourist Office near the Golf Club, I saw some commotion and shouting going on. I saw Rekha talking to someone in a loud voice. She was shouting and crying at the same time. After I entered my office, the Central School Instructor Bajwa came in. He informed me that Rekha had a problem. She had to go to Tangmarg but the Director was not able to arrange a vehicle for her. The commotion was about this. He requested that I should take her to Tangmarg in the official four wheel drive vehicle. I told him to get her to my office so that I could find out what the problem actually was and would definitely help. After few minutes Bajwa returned with Rekha. She was very much worked up. I asked her to cool down and offered a cup of coffee. She told me that she is a madrasi girl and is not used to this cold. She also had her mother with her. I told her to relax and I would take her along with her family to Tangmarg. So, I carried them in our jeep to Tangmarg where other transport was waiting to take them to airport. She was very grateful for the rescue and thanked me before departing!

The other actors and actresses I met in Gulmarg are Shatrugan Sinha, Hema Malini, Zarina Wahab, Amul Palikhar, Ranjita, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Amjad Khan, Sahashi Kapoor, and Mithun Chakarvarty. Most of the time we met in Highland Park Hotel in the evening where these people used to stay. Sometimes we also met on the slopes during shooting. Shatrugan Sinha always remarked about my flat belly. He was very conscious of his protruding tummy! He wanted to know how I am able to maintain the flat belly. Well, I told him to cut down on booze and do some exercise which he could not do. Hema Malini took my pictures while skiing. It was exciting for the skiers to see a heroine take my pictures. In fact, it was the rides on my shoulder on the ski lift to young Farid (grand son of Benjie, the owner of Highland Park Hotel who tragically died in a car crash in Dehradun at the prime of his youth) that prompted her to take my pictures. Farid was too small for the ski-lift and I used to bring him up on my shoulders with his skis dangling on two sides. That made a good picture.

Another interesting incident was with Zarina Wahab and Amul Palikhar. One day I was going back to my hut 181 and saw from a distance a huge crowd surrounding it. I went straight to the door and rang the bell. My care taker Asad Ullah came out and I asked him what was it all about? He told me that some film shooting was taking place on slope behind our hut. The hero and heroine had felt very cold and wanted to warm themselves. Asad Ullah had not allowed them the use of our drawing room or my bed room but had put them next to a fire wood stove in his room. I felt little embarrassed and invited them to my drawing room. We had some tea together. It was funny to see these top stars warming themselves in Chowkidar’s room! One evening during my usual trip to the lounge of Highland Park Hotel I happened to meet Mithun Charvarty. He was playing cards with some instructors. He related to me his struggle to become a film star. He told me that he used to sleep on the foot paths of Kolkatta and had to struggle hard to reach the position he now occupies in Bollywwod. He told me that he is a black-belt in Karate. It was very interesting to meet these stars away from glamour as normal human beings! The most exciting and a long lasting encounter was with Shashi Kapoor which I will relate in the next episode.

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