Sitting in his cozy office of Shiraz Travels at Lambert Lane in Srinagar, Nazir Bakshi , the scion of the Bakshi clan is a living legend in his own right. What he has done for the tourism industry in Kashmir is well known within the domain he operates and the circle he connects with. Responsible for lights, camera and all the Bollywood action in the Valley, he comes across as a warm and grounded person drifting between the present and yesteryears. He is a person who connects in no time, an individual who comes across as a person one seems to have known for a lifetime, a person you can trust and look up to – and that is all it takes to be a person he is.
Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi.
You are a person who has been credited for bringing the stars to the Valley of Kashmir not only by the travel fraternity but the Indian film industry too. How did you manage to do this?
N. Bakshi: The beauty of Kashmir itself is a big draw. But, yes, my relationship with a few people in Bollywood did work well. Like Rajesh Khanna Sahib and Jitendra were with me in college and over a period of time, I become a very good friend of Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, and till date we have very good and cordial relations.
This is one part of the story, the other part is that I used to spend time with them even when the movies they were involved in did not have anything to do with Kashmir. I would invite them to Srinagar for holidays. When I say them, I mean not just the stars, but the members of the film unit. This effort had a cascading effect. The Indian film industry started developing an interest in Kashmir and we witnessed increased activity of Bollywood in Kashmir. At one point of time in 1983-84, we had over four hundred units active in Kashmir. Thereafter, it became a normal activity.
At that point of time, which were the most attractive locations for Indian films in Kashmir?
N. Bakshi: Although the whole of Kashmir was a location, but Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Srinagar City were the three places where maximum activity took place. Commercially speaking, there was for sure a windfall for various local businesses. What excited me the most was that not only did the State Government make money by allowing the film units to shoot in the Mughal Gardens and other locations which were under the State Tourism Department, but also many individuals who had interesting properties in Kashmir were part of this activity.
Have you ever been able to measure the impact of Kashmir over the people of the rest of the country due to Bollywood films?
N. Bakshi: Let me answer this question by sharing an anecdote with you. This is something that happened way back in 1961. Mr. Shammi Kapoor’s (who was a good friend, may his soul rest in peace) and Saira Banu’s film ‘Junglee’ was released, my college friends, this included Ratan Tata, were so fascinated with the beauty of Kashmir that around eighteen of them came to Srinagar. This was the impact of Kashmir in the movies.
What kind of relations did you enjoy with the people from Bollywood?
N. Bakshi: First of all, I would like to make a statement that I cannot remember any Bollywood star from the yesteryears who did not visit this beautiful land of ours. As far as my relations were or are concerned, over a period of time, all of them became my personal friends. I am in touch with most of them on one-on-one basis and there is a highly evolved mutual respect for each other.
From the past, I remember that at a party at Oberoi Hotel (now Lalit), besides the film stars, there were bureaucrats, VIPS and some prominent politicians. I was also invited to this get-together. The moment Asha Parekh saw me she came and hugged me, and starting conversing with me. A very senior politician passed a remark “What is this? Only Nazir Bakshi is getting all the attention”. What followed was astonishing. Vinod Khanna who was also there, turned toward the politician and said that “In our industry we do not remember whom we met yesterday. There is some charisma in Nazir that everyone in the industry remembers him by his face and by his name also”.
While you have been very instrumental in getting Bollywood to Kashmir, did the film location or star presence help tourism in the Valley?
N. Bakshi: Yes, it did happen. My Travel Agency became part of many such travel packages where we handled individuals / families. The mandate used to be very simple – stay in the same hotel or eat at the same restaurant, so that they could catch a glimpse of the star and possibly have a small chat with the star or get an autograph too. The major draws in this case have been Rakhi, Rekha, Amitabh Bachchan, Sunil Dutt and Rishi Kapoor. The list can just go on and on.
Is there an anecdote you remember which is close to your heart?
N. Bakshi: There are so many stories to share, but one I remember and which really left an impact on me was an incident that involved Rekha. We were driving towards Pahalgam. We were passing by some paddy fields where we saw some Kashmiri women and some men singing while working in the field. It was quite a beautiful scene and she wanted to be part of it. I did not allow her. As we were very close to a village, she told the driver to stop the car as she wanted to freshen up. I saw her entering one house. We waited for over half an hour and we became very scared. I also rushed to the house and asked about “the lady who was wearing a sari”. I was directed towards the field, where Rekha was enjoying the Kashmiri song while they were doing Naende (the process of rice planting). She wanted to join them. It took a while and some effort to make her understand that she would spoil her sari. However, she groomed a woman’s hair and had tea with them before we resumed our journey to Pahalgam. That was a wonderful experience.
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