Archive for June, 2014

Kashmir is Organic, not manicured: Imtiaz Ali…/ Rashmi Talwar

Kashmir is Organic Not Manicured :Imtiaz Ali

Kashmir is Organic Not Manicured :Imtiaz Ali

Imtiaz Ali

Don’t go by the Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali’s golly-lock looks, neither by his humble demeanor, underneath lies a sharp mind and heart that not only explodes in cinematic best in such blockbusters like ‘Jab we met’, ‘Rockstar’ and recent ‘Highway’ but has brought Kashmir once again on the tourist circuit in more ways than one. Apart from highlighting virgin landscapes, the film Rockstar had Nargis Fakri attired in kurtas and shawls in exquisite Kashmiri embroidery. RASHMI TALWAR caught Imtiaz Ali in Srinagar (Kashmir), while he was shyly treading the celebrity tourism path chalked out by Jammu & Kashmir’s Tourism cell.

Q1. Don’t you think other countries with similar luxuriant landscapes could offer better locales than Kashmir?
Ans: There couldn’t be a single film maker who doesn’t want to shoot in Kashmir. In my movies, I have shown not even five percent of Kashmir. Nothing can match Kashmir and its endearing backdrops or its innocence. My top priority would be Kashmir compared to any other part of the world as beautiful as they may be. If I may put it in a few words which I know would not suffice the emotional bonding I have towards it, I could say –‘Kashmir is organic, it’s not manicured’ that is why it is so special.

Q2. Was it an effort to promote the place you fell in love with, even though you are not of it?

Ans: I didn’t do film shoots here with a conscious effort to promote Kashmir. It just happened and I am happy it did. Punjab has its own flavors and one can see a lot of Punjab in Yash Chopra’s films, plus Punjab is the current flavor too. I used Punjab in ‘Jab we met’ but in terms of visual beauty Kashmir is matchless.

Q3. Kashmir is indeed lucky to have you?
Ans: No, I consider myself the lucky one that I was able to shoot in Kashmir and not the other way around. I come here to fulfill my greed. I had no clue that showing Kashmir would develop as vast an expanse as it eventually did and I am indeed humbled by the response. There is immense talent in this place. I once did an impromptu short film ‘window seat’ of only five and a half minutes duration and a shikarawala sang a song in it. With a mere back score and sound of rippling water it caught the limelight on you tube. The film revolved along the varied touristy experiences of the shikarawala. The impromptu song by the shikarawala Habibullah Butt, of Dandi, became the highlight of the film. Even now Butt rows the shikara in the Dal Lake.

Q4. What level do you give to music in your films?
Ans: Music is very vital to my films as it is to the entire spectrum of Indian movies. I am very particular about the background scores, the soundtracks, the song and the lyrics. They should not only gel together to bring forth the story but in places I have chosen them for the sheer effect of the travails. I try not to insert a playback singer’s voice that does not match the character’s personality, even though I may be emotionally affected by it. I try to use it appropriately; rest is up to the Almighty.

Q5. You think you have something unique in you that other directors may not have?

Ans: Yes, I have an e-mail address ‘standingingalerybelow’ (smiles) and it has a unique story. A girl who once worked with me kept this name for our production house’s email, because in all my films there was always a character under the gallery. When she left, she gifted me the email and ever since it has become my prized personal email.

Q6. Can I safely address you as a hit director given the fact that you have had a string of blockbusters in a short span?
Ans: I never know if my work would be attractive to my audience or hit the dust. There are always layers and layers in creating a film. It is the script, the storyline, the conception, writing, presentation, direction and final outcome and no one knows whether it will click or turn into a flop. Yes, instinct is very much present but instinct and period, beyond that I don’t think. That is how I make it; the end result is not something that I or anyone can predict.

Q7. Which one of the actresses would you prefer Aaliya Bhatt or Kareena Kapoor? Do you like happy or prefer open endings where audience draw their own conclusions?

Ans: Aalia was amazing. In every new shot she surprised me during the making of ‘Highway’. Kareena is of course more experienced and is a very good actress. I haven’t experimented much with open endings I don’t feel there is a choice in a storyline. Whatever the story demands I meander it that way.‘Rockstar’ had a tragic ending, ‘Highway’ had a good one so did ‘Jab we met’.
Q8. What is lacking in Bollywood today? Is there anyone you would love to work with?

Ans: Bollywood is missing out on the strength of good writers. Strong storylines are missing. I would have loved to work with Dalip Kumar; he is one of the greatest actors India has seen. But I do not foresee my dream coming true.
Q9. Do you take time or make instant decisions? Which one would you consider for a re-make of an old or a regional hit?
Ans: I take snap decisions. I don’t linger around too much (running his fingers in his curly hair and giving it a gentle flick). I find no fun in remakes or rehashing old stuff be it songs or stories. There is a whole world of new stories.
I love to make movies on human interest stories where characters are vital and I choose them with care. I would however love to make a character movie someday like Farhan Akhtar’s–Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Also I would try a period film someday in the backdrop of Mughal period when Urdu was developing and poets were writing in mixed languages, the period of Hazrat Aamir Khusro, the emergence of Hindustani music.

Q10. Any love interest in your life? What are your views on marriage?
Ans: No, I wouldn’t like to talk about my love interest. Marriage is very difficult; people should go into it on their own risks.


Sign of blessed tidings, water is milky at Kheer Bhawani…/ Rashmi Talwar

Photo & Caption  by Ravinder Kaul: Taken at a Tea Shop, at Mata Kheer Bhawani, two elderly gentlemen deeply immersed in an intimate chat, completely oblivious of the Mela or the world. I returned to the shop after two hours and found them sitting exactly in the same posture. I clicked their pictures but they did not come to know of it until I told them. One a Kashmiri Pandit another a Kashmiri Muslim were former colleagues and neighbors and were meeting after 25 years. Looking at them I felt-“There’s still hope in this world”.

Photo & Caption by Ravinder Kaul: Taken at a Tea Shop, at Mata Kheer Bhawani, two elderly gentlemen deeply immersed in an intimate chat, completely oblivious of the Mela or the world. I returned to the shop after two hours and found them sitting exactly in the same posture. I clicked their pictures but they did not come to know of it until I told them. One a Kashmiri Pandit another a Kashmiri Muslim were former colleagues and neighbors and were meeting after 25 years. Looking at them I felt-“There’s still hope in this world”.

Sign of blessed tidings, water is milky: Kheer Bhawani

Rashmi Talwar

‘Naabad rang Poenye’! ‘Naabad rang Poenye’! (The color of water is Mishri- crystallized sugar) Kashmiri Pandits exclaimed in subdued glee. Kashmiris are hardly boisterous unlike Punjabis who would break into a Bhangra or Buraaaah, Jhappis and Pappis to express their delight. Yet their sense of bonhomie is apparent.

It is a different matter that on this very day, swords came out and lathis were freely used, blood spilled, amongst Sikhs in the premises of Amritsar’s revered Golden Temple- the seat of Sikhism, in the presence of Holy Book- Guru Granth Sahib, while observing a mourning for those who died in Op Bluestar, 30 years ago.

Coming back to Kashmir, the color of water of the sacred spring of Kheer Bhawani on this day, is symbolic, the milky tint, signifying good tidings for the year ahead. Mata Kheer Bhawani bestows her blessings, was the cheer, seen in the smiles of thousands of Kashmiris. Kashmiri Pandits from all parts of the world converge to this sacred spot, 27 Kms from Srinagar, every year to celebrate Jyeshtha Ashtami, the eighth day of the Jyeshtha month of Hindu lunar calendar.

It wasn’t as if the Pandits alone felt blessed by the water’s light tinge, Kashmiris in general, especially the older generation, too seemed to have prayed for pastel colors for the spring waters. Kashmiris can hardly forget the reddish and blackish hue of the holy waters in early 90’s that left them tattered and shattered, destroying almost everything they possessed, even the cravings for grasses and greenery, fruits and hills, scents and fragrances, home and hearth as well as trust and faith. They talked amongst their own, but weary eyes looked fervently in search for someone familiar from their happy past.

Elderly Kashmiri Muslims too come here with the same searching eyes, looking for their neighbors, friends or childhood buddies who had migrated in the early 1990s. Since migration, many cried a million tears over the tearing separation from friends, from beloved homes, the elixir waters, scented winds, fragrant flowers, juicy fruits and chirping birds while those left behind cried the same for lost warmth, friendship, kinship, sharing, camaraderie, heart to heart and especially Kashmiri Pandit Master Jees and Behan Jees, in schools.

Ganderbal District’s Tulamulla Mela reverberates with temple bells, beckoning Muslim neighborhoods to take a peek. Fascinated children, gather around the cooling shades of dozens of Chinar trees and muster up the courage to talk to Pandits, to ask them about their rituals, customs, their whereabouts and even why they don’t come back. Mostly they are too timid and would run away even with mere aim of cameras, but someone from them does come forward and the rest giggle.

Red ‘chunaris’ take on the wind and fly with their ends tied to the bark of a tree, reminding the reigning deity ‘Ragnya Bhagwati’ of a promise made by a devotee or a gift pledge to another. The scents of agarbatti or incense, dhoop, colorful Puja thalis with flowers, milk, ‘kandh’(bar of sugar), Kheer- rice pudding offered as Prasad, the thali also consisting of mauli- sacred thread, tilak- anointing saffron sandal paste, fresh water and other pooja saamagri or worship kit, that flows easily from devotee to devotee at stalls and shops owned and run exclusively by Kashmiri Muslims outside the shrine. Thousands of ‘Ratandeep’ (ghee-filled diyas), glitter bringing with them hope and cheer for devotees wherever they dwell.

Interestingly, Jai Gopal, a Pandit, conducting rituals at Kheer Bhawani says, “The Puja thalis are paid for only after the thali is returned to the shop keeper”. “This is tradition and has continued for eons and there has never been a chance when a devotee made off with a thali or evaded payment thus”, the shrine Pandit adds. This is indeed true, when I last visited the Kheer Bhawani shrine during an off season detour, I was surprised about this matter of faith and trust of post payments, that is perhaps seen no where in the world.

Fragrance of Hawan ‘saamagri’ or fire-offerings consisting of dried flowers, leaves, stems and roots collected from surrounding forests and other assorted material has a mandatory inclusion of lotus seeds (Pambuch) known to ward off evil spirits. At 32 degree centigrade, the holy environs here remain cool with the canopy of Chinars, some of whose branches touch the cooling waters nearby.

Ravinder Kaul, a freelance journalist, clicked a photograph of a Kashmiri Pandit and Kashmiri Muslim engrossed in conversation for hours at the Mela, unconcerned about the colorful revelry and melodious ‘Bhajans’ that soothed the air. This photograph posted on the FB, received over 1000 likes and comments and more than 245 shares, thereby emerging as a fountain of hope, of ties, of heart strings, impossible to break between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, despite troubled times of the past.

Governor of the state NN Vohra took a stroll and Yasin Mallik a politician advocating freedom from India, Congress leader Saifuddin Soz as well as PDP’s senior leaders were seen in bear hugs with fellow Kashmiris, urging them to return to the beauteous Valley. No one seemed to be convinced even as stalls by most political parties the PDP, Congress, National Conference dot the venue. Also true to the festive spirit were stalls by Kashmir police for assistance, RBI and J&K Bank for financial awareness programmes, Civil Defense, Traffic Police, Health Services, Tourism, Medical and others. The spirit of brotherhood however lives on with Broadway Hotel, Civil, Secretariat employees and Swami Vivekananda Mission, Nagdandi providing free food for all devotees.

Some reminiscenced about good times when families lived in houseboats for a week to participate in the grand fair. They all join in “puran ahuti” or the final offerings and “saamoohik aarti” or collective prayers, knowing fully well that chances of their return were hardly bright. The fair gives this alienated community, a chance to touch roots. For a day, the spirit soars high and faith keeps its beauteous moorings all through the year,

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