MaharajGanj is a location that no filmmaker or a director would like to exclude from his visual narrative. Dipesh was enamoured with the tight cluster of houses, narrow winding lanes, ugly mesh of overhead wires, naked bulbs as streetlamps, the crowd and the bazaar. In fact our fixation with it began when we toured Srinagar four months before the shoot, during a reccee. We loved it. Dipesh had discussed some shots while we were walking on Zaina Kadal, a bridge. When we finally came for the shoot, the atmosphere was different – vitiated to some extent by the Amarnath row. Some locals presumed, going by the title of the film that we have indeed come to shoot about the temple land issue which had gone on for some two months. They were thus angry and displayed their bottled feelings rather too explicitly for our comfort.
A day prior, we decided during an informal production meeting to begin the shoot early in the morning. The local line producer gave an important input that there is a ‘bandh’ the following day. I think this is what Dipesh wanted – a contrast to the festive Hazratbal footage.
We started early as planned i.e 6’o clock. The streets were deserted because a ‘bandh’ had been called by a political party and also it was the holy month of Ramadan. People have an early morning meal before sunrise and catch a nap before getting up slightly late.
Enroute to Maharajganj, we took some shots of the streets. When we landed in Maharajganj, things were as we expected – quiet. There were no grip equipments barring a foam core reflector. We quickly decided to go for a couple of shots where M K Raina would be walking on the deserted streets. Dipesh did some improvisation when he found a bystander at the corner of a block. He got him to say a line. We recorded sound too and a retake. Amazing so far!
We did some shots on the bridge – Zaina Kadal. During reccee we had thought of shooting some extra scenes too on the same bridge, with cranes and tracks. Now we were just taking some ‘moments’ shot on a tripod. Anyways, it is always about adapting to the situation while shooting on location/outdoors and we did pretty fine.
We entered Qutubdinpura in a narrow lane, a few hundred feet from Zaina Kadal. We were left with few shots to build the entire montage. It was 0930 and there were movements of local people. Some were curious others were apathetic to our presence. A small problem began when a local muscle man appeared from another lane and objected to our shooting there. He was not a day older than 25 by modest estimate. He demanded money; his body language said so. M K Raina, the protagonist in the film, became a real life protagonist. He spoke in fluent Kashmiri to the man. The muscle-man was taken aback. Armed with a baritone voice Raina was able to talk his way through. The muscle-man was visibly embarrassed and before leaving he assured us that there would be no more problems and just in case if anybody bothers the film unit we should take his name. His name escapes my memory as I was concentrating on my next move – where should I run with the camera just in case the verbal confrontation turned ugly.