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1st March 2011
The Gulmarg Nostalgia-X
(Bollywood in Gulmarg-II!)


The longest interaction I had with Bollywood stars was with Shashi Kapoor. He had come for the shooting of "Namak Halaal" which was produced by Prakash Mehra. In the plot of the movie Shashi Kapoor (some Indian Prince) is supposed to be skiing in Europe and the bad guys go to Europe to assassinate him. Prakash Mehra told my friend Pappoo Sharma one night that he was planning to go to Switzerland to shoot and by chance he spoke to Nazir Bakshi. Nazir suggested to him that a scene like Europe could be created in Gulmarg.


He took his advice and came there with his crew. They took close shots of French ski lifts and Highland Park Hotel. Fortunately for them, at that time we were conducting our internal races which they shot. They were successful in creating the ambiance of Switzerland in Gulmarg! Most of these film units were trying to create European outdoors in Gulmarg especially in winter. Those days it was quite expensive to go abroad for shooting and also the budgets for these films were small compared to present day. Now film producers prefer to go abroad and the budgets are in crores! The most popular film which showed Gulmarg as Gulmarg was Bobby. The shooting was done in one of the huts of Hotel Highland Park which came to be known as the Bobby Hut! One of the spots for sight seeing for Indian tourists to Gulmarg was the Bobby Hut. Probably, the Indian film units would have continued to come to Gulmarg and other parts of Kashmir but for the turmoil of nineties. The violence scared away all these units. We tried our best to motivate these units to come back after 2003 but they did not feel confident enough. Now, the Tourism Department has been trying again with some success but mostly low budgeted film units are coming. Only a few big ones are venturing into Kashmir. The most of the big ones still prefer to go abroad!


Coming back to Shashi Kapoor’s trip to Gulmarg, it was an exciting adventure. Off and on we used to take a day long trip to Srinagar in our jeep to bring some provisions and hold some official meetings. During one of these trips while moving on the Residency Road we met Nazir Bakshi. He hailed us to a stop. It had been raining in Srinagar. Gulmarg had over 8 feet of snow and it was still snowing intermittently. There were three of us in the jeep. Pappoo Sharma, my friend from Jammu was driving the jeep. He is an expert driver and owned a four wheel drive Cherokee. Vijay Kaul, the best skier from the Central School was accompanying us. Nazir Bakshi told us that one of the film units conducted by him was in Gulmarg. He had to send Shashi Kapoor to Gulmarg for shooting. The road was through for four wheel drive vehicles with chains only. Nazir requested us to give him a lift from Tangmarg to Gulmarg. He would be sending him by car to Tangmarg. We told him that we would be back in Tangmarg by 5 pm and he should reach there by that time. After finishing our chores we reached Tangmarg around 5 pm but there was no sign of Shashi Kapoor. We started putting chains on the wheels. It was snowing but not heavily. As soon as we finished the mounting of chains on the wheels of the jeep, Shashi Kapoor arrived in a car. He was dressed for a social evening in Mumbai.


A kurta-shalwar, with a white pashmina shawl draped over the shoulders. He was wearing a pair of fancy casual shoes. I was surprised. Probably he had absolutely no idea where he was going? Pappoo drove the jeep and we put Shashi in the middle on the front seat. With a film hero sitting next to him, Pappoo got somewhat excited and showed us his driving skills in a virtual snow tunnel with about six feet on either side. In spite of the chains, the jeep would skid into left or the right snow wall sometimes. Each time Shashi would utter a cry of fright! I told him to relax. It was not a Bollywood movie but a reality show. It was a job to calm him down. Due to falling snow and very slippery road our drive up to Gulmarg was quite slow. We reached Gulmag around 7 pm when it was already dark. Those days the front road up to Hotel Highland Park was not cleared. We had to drive on the Alambal Road to the back of the Hotel and climb 100 odd feet or so to reach the Hotel. Pappoo and I walked up with Shashi to the Hotel lounge. The climb was an ordeal for Shashi. He must have had over a dozen falls in soft snow. We virtually carried him up. Those days Shashi was quite slim and smart. He was shivering with cold in his fancy dress and shoes. After getting warmed up, he left for his room and asked us to stay back for dinner. He was profusely thanking us for saving his life! As we too had to go to our hut, we excused ourselves and let him relax. Next evening he gave a gala dinner in our honour in the Highland Park Hotel and told everyone that we had saved his life in the snow storm. Subsequently Pappoo and I met Shashi Kapoor number of times during his shooting forays in Kashmir. Unlike other celebrities, he would always meet us very warmly and recall the events of that evening in Gulmarg. These days whenever I see his recent photos on the internet or in journals, I cannot believe it is the same Shashi Kapoor, slim, smart, and active! Time changes everyone but the memories are everlasting!

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