‘11 weeks’ – the film shoot
The principal photography of the film had been held up for almost two months due to the agitation in Jammu and Srinagar over a small piece of land. Uncertainty prevailed. I was wondering if I would ever get a chance to shoot in Srinagar and around the beautiful ski slopes of Gulmarg. Finally, god acceded to everyone’s prayer. The fight over divine land ceased with the same swiftness with which it had picked up momentum. The holy month of Ramadan was around the corner. Firm dates were set with the conviction that these dates would not be changed, come what may.
Brilliant. Preparations were underfoot once again, crew members were confirmed on roster once again, tickets and logistics were arranged, film stocks were purchased, I mean, more film stocks than what Dipesh had got from U.S. Due to change in the dates we ran into problems with the camera rentals. Hardly any sync sound cameras were available. Those which were available were not willing to give the concession that Panavision was willing to give. Finally, a day prior to departure a camera was arranged – an old BL4 but well kept and looked after by a wonderful technician, a veteran D.o.P. and owner - Kamlakar Rao. I spent an hour at his workshop and was satisfied with the working of the camera. His equipment was in first class shape. No test was possible as I was leaving the next day. Deep within there was a sense of assurance that things would go fine.
Srinagar greeted with a dry autumn and deserted streets. The tourists who thronged the markets and shikaras a few months back were missing. As a photographer I felt like the streets, the landscape too was barren, with a veneer of gritty yellowy dust all over compared to the lush greens three months back. It might work for the film, I thought. Well, as I said it is autumn now and at higher latitudes the effect of seasons are more pronounced compared to tropical coastal climates.
The hotels flanking the boulevard bore no activity and stood lifeless mirroring the character of the lake dying of pain than filth. We were put up in a small cosy hotel in a by lane from the boulevard. For next few days as crew members started arriving the hotel was buzzing with activity. The staff tried to keep pace with our unreasonable demands for cuisines at the most unreasonable times and they did so with smiles because it was after a long time they would be able to show ‘kashmiriyat’ to the visitors.
The first day of reccee was at the Gulmarg palace. We had a quick lunch and returned back to Srinagar before nightfall.
The second day we were in Srinagar. We scouted the whole town for locations apt for the story. It was twilight when we reached Zaina Kadal. The sky had turned a deep purple after the sun had set behind the mountains. A nearby mosque called the faithfuls for the evening prayer. The streets were deserted as people moved indoors to break their fast. As night fell, we had no option but to return to the safe confines of our hotel premises. We walked back taking an excursion route through Maharajganj. The locality was pitch dark. Few tungsten bulbs hung from the street poles to quell the darkness but to no avail. We felt that the adjoining by-lanes would be apt for shoot as there was hardly any traffic, pedestrian or vehicular. We couldn’t have been more wrong. All of a sudden local residents poured out in the by lane as we were taking pictures. They were annoyed by our presence and soon turned belligerent. We literally ran away to the head of the bridge where our vehicles were parked.
It wasn’t a good idea to have ventured in Maharajganj at night. We shouldn’t have been doing any reccee after sunset at the first place given the volatile nature in sections of old Srinagar. Never the less, we did turn up after few days and successfully canned some shots on the picturesque bridge called Zaina Qadal and Maharajganj.