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Ajay Devgn and Rohit Shetty shoot “Singham Again” in Jammu and Kashmir: How peace and prosperity came in the valley after removal of Article 370

More than 300 movies and web series have been filmed in Jammu and Kashmir in the past two years.

Rohit Shetty’s “Singham Again” starring Ajay Devgn has created a lot of buzz on social media, not only for the project but also because of the videos and pictures from the shooting that went viral on social media as they were taken in Kashmir. It serves as yet another testament to the drastic change that Jammu and Kashmir has undergone in only around five years after the abrogation of Article 370 in an epochal move in 2019.

The audience will get to witness the beautiful valley on silver screens after a long break owing to the strong government initiatives and policies aimed at bringing peace and prosperity to the region. Kashmir was a favourite location to shoot Bollywood movies before terrorism hit the valley, after which the producers were forced to avoid the beautiful locations due to security reasons. However, now that situation have changed, and considerable number of movies and shows have been shot there in recent times.

The government has implemented various measures to progressively restore normalcy in Kashmir, and the union territory has been witnessing gradual changes in recent years that were inconceivable before 2019. The image of the new Kashmir of 2024 is defined by a sharp decline in terror, a significant increase in the tourism sector, a bustling first-ever multi-plex opened after decades and the “God of Cricket” strolling through its streets. The place which was earlier solely recognized for violence, stone-pelting, strikes and terrorism is now renowned for its development and peace.

300 films shot in Kashmir

Jammu & Kashmir has been the stunning backdrop for over 300 movies and web series over the last two years, winning recognition for the exquisite display of the region’s ethereal beauty. The year 2023 marked the approval of 102 web series and films from Tollywood and Bollywood to be shot in Jammu & Kashmir. Yami Gautam’s “Article 370,” John Abraham’s “Vedaa” and Shahrukh Khan’s “Dunki” are a few of the prominent projects among them.

Shah Rukh Khan was spotted in Sonamarg for “Dunki” shoot. (India Today)

The administration granted permission for up to 200 movies, web series and music videos to be filmed in Kashmir in the year preceding 2022. According to officials, the valley has been effective in drawing filmmakers, with several of them requesting authorization to shoot in Kashmir. They attributed the development to the film policy, which encouraged filmmakers to use Kashmir as their shooting location.

Moreover, the government has advocated for new destinations to be used as ideal film locations. The government of Jammu and Kashmir introduced its first film policy in 2021 in an attempt to foster interest in filmmakers. Furthermore, for the fiscal year 2022–2023, the government established a Film Development Fund (FDF) in the Information Department to distribute subsidies as specified in the Jammu & Kashmir Film Policy 2021.

The government of Jammu and Kashmir launched its first film policy in 2021 in an effort to pique the interest of filmmakers in the area. Moreover, in the fiscal year 2022-2023, the government created a Film Development Fund (FDF) within the Information Department to provide subsidies outlined in the Jammu & Kashmir Film Policy 2021. The Film Development Council of Jammu and Kashmir has introduced a single-window system to streamline the process of shooting and make it less complex.

Filmmakers have the option to submit their applications through the online platform jkfilm.jk.gov.in. Many directors have applied to shoot their films in Jammu and Kashmir since the film policy was introduced. The government provides financial assistance to filmmakers so they can film in the union territory.

It is essential to acknowledge that none of this could have been achieved if the area continued to exist as it did before 2019. “Lights, sound, camera and action” would have been drowned out by the roar of gunfire, stones being hurled and the cries of the hapless victims.

Kashmir’s first-ever multiplex opens in Srinagar

Kashmir’s first multiplex was inaugurated in the Sonwar neighbourhood of Srinagar in 2022 by the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha which marked the reopening of theatres after a three-decade hiatus. There are three movie theatres in the INOX-designed multiplex, totalling 520 seats. Additionally, there is a food court on the property to support regional cuisine. A “Khatambandh” made of Kashmiri wood is also utilized in the lobbies to showcase the region’s artwork and design, lending it a distinctively Kashmiri appearance. The public was invited to attend a special screening of “Lal Singh Chaddha,” starring Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor in leading roles.

Image via Moneycontrol

People in Kashmir will have access to the same recreational amenities as the rest of the country due to the permanent installation of the multiplex and the screenings of the newest films. Multipurpose cinema halls in Pulwama and Shopian were also opened.

After 33 years, cinema returned to north Kashmir in 2023 following the official launch of multipurpose movie theatres in Baramulla and Handwara by J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. Seven major movie theatres in North Kashmir existed before the rise of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. These theatres were owned and operated by the local community while the Army managed three theatres in Baramulla, Pattan and Uri towns that bore the names of notable generals.

However, the valley’s movie theatres were all shuttered on 31st December 1990, amid the escalating terrorist attacks. The terrorists threatened the proprietors and people stopped going to the movies out of fear. With the end of Article 370 and a significant drop in terrorist attacks, cinemas have made a comeback in Kashmir much to the delight of the general public.

Sachin Tendulkar visits the valley

Sachin Tendulkar, otherwise known as the “God of Cricket” went viral online earlier this year when he posted pictures from his trip to Kashmir. Sachin Tendulkar was enjoying the latter part of winter in the valley with his wife Anjali while on a week-long trip to Jammu and Kashmir. He shared his favourite travel memories from the trip and recommended people to add the mesmerising valley to their bucket list of places to visit. He termed Kashmir as “one of the several jewels” of the country and echoed the views expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding the abundance of natural beauty that the nation has to offer to tourists.

The legendary cricketer also prayed at the Shankaracharya temple in Srinagar. He wrote, “It felt surreal to visit the Shankaracharya temple last month, which is situated at an altitude of 1100 feet above the surface level of Srinagar city. During the 240+ steps ascent, every step felt like a step closer to divinity. I feel truly blessed to have had this experience with my family and friends,” while sharing the experience.

The former Indian opener also paid a visit to a Chursoo cricket bat factory, a nod to the area’s well-known expertise in crafting fine Kashmir willow bats. He heaped praise and stated that they are excellent representations of the global impact that “Made in India” products are making.

Furthermore, the Indian cricket maestro stunned one and all by engaging in a session of gully cricket in Uri. He got down from his car as he spotted some kids playing cricket on the road with an empty oil can and a cardboard carton for stumps. He even turned the bat upside down and played with the long handle to give the starstruck young boys a shot at dismissing him.

Who would have imagined, prior to 2019, that such images could be captured in a valley notorious for its horrific scenes of murder and violence?

Srinagar hosts maiden Formula-4 car racing event

Srinagar held its first Formula-4 car racing event in March in an effort to boost tourism and provide more opportunities for young people in the area. Professional Formula-4 drivers from all over the country participated and impressed the audience with their impressive performances and entertained them for almost four hours. Fans gathered in droves to see the exhilarating competition and many took advantage of the chance to interact with experienced drivers after the event. The latter provided advice to young people looking to get into motorsports.

Authorities made sure that attendees had a flawless experience by carefully organizing everything, including the setup of the track, the deployment of medical professionals to boost safety and a strong security system as sleek race cars thundered across a 1.7-kilometre course that stretched from Lalit Ghat on the banks of Dal Lake to the city’s Nehru Park.

The Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India, a member of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), arranged the inaugural event of its sort in the Kashmir Valley. Prime Minister Modi also expressed that the occasion will further highlight Jammu and Kashmir’s splendid scenery.

The Tourism Department facilitated the partnership between Formula-4 and the Indian Racing League which resulted in the event as a major step in demonstrating the region’s potential in motorsports. The race, according to its organisers, was about more than just rivalry and speed, it was also about unity and resiliency and urged the young people in the region to pursue careers in Formula-4 racing and enhance Kashmir’s growing motorsport presence. They voiced, “It goes beyond the usual motive. The event was grand and historic. Formula-4 will be an addition to the adventure in Kashmir.” Officials pointed out that the purpose of the event was to familiarize the valley with the culture of Formula-4, as motorsports has been growing in popularity there.

From a history of strife to the sound of engines, from young people gathering to throwing stones to youth lining the charming Boulevard road at the base of the Zabarwan mountain range to watch racing events, Kashmir has indeed come a long way.

Kashmir hosts G-20 meeting

The Indian government hosted over 100 meetings throughout the nation while it took on the G20 presidency in 2023. Furthermore, a working group meeting of the international forum was held in Kashmir from 22nd to 24th May at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar. The development grabbed a lot of attention since it was the first time in Kashmir’s history that representatives from so many different nations were present in the region, which had spent decades under the shadow of terrorism funded by Pakistan.

Enthusiastic delegates took pictures in traditional Kashmiri attire. (Source: Greater Kashmir)

A general strike in Srinagar would have been expected in the past in response to an incident of this magnitude, but according to MoS Jitendra Singh, people are now “going about with their activity.” He mentioned, “Jammu and Kashmir has moved on, the common man has moved on. He’s seen two generations of Kashmiris being sacrificed on the altar of Pak-sponsored terrorism, he’s no longer in the mood to succumb to that.” Jitendra Singh highlighted positive transformations in the Valley and noted, “It is indeed a moment of rejuvenation, a moment of reincarnation.”

The delegates had a “Shikara” boat trip on Dal Lake and visited other picturesque locations in Srinagar including the Nishat Mughal Garden and the 18-hole Royal Spring Golf Course. They also did some shopping at Polo View Market, the city’s all-pedestrian marketplace. They showed keen interest in the regional handicrafts and purchased some to bring home as mementoes of their exciting trip to the valley. A few of the local handicrafts that drew their interest were walnut wood carvings, Pashmina shawls, and papier-mache pieces, among others.

Tourism boom and influx of foreign investment in Kashmir

The G20 Tourism Working Group meeting and the Miss Universe press conference were just two of the major international events that the valley hosted in 2023 as part of the government’s ambitious plan to establish Kashmir as a global tourism hub which was followed by the first-ever Formula-4 (F4) automobile racing competition. Mercedes-Benz’s electric car also made its premiere in Gulmarg and many such events will be observed in the future, according to J&K tourism agency representatives. Furthermore, throughout the past few years, films featuring stunning landscapes from Jammu and Kashmir have been shot, reflecting the region’s allure and charm. This cinematic embrace and the government’s coordinated efforts to promote stability have been crucial in bringing the tourism industry back to life.

Image via CNBC TV18

Diversification became prominent as a crucial tactic, with a focus on marketing isolated and rural locations that enhance visitor experiences while accentuating the area’s natural and cultural heritage. Notably, border tourism underwent a notable uptick as a result of the army and tourism authorities working together to provide travellers with immersive and safe experiences. Greater peace and order has a noticeable effect on the local economy, based on the tourism-dependent business owners who credit it with aiding their ventures.

The first foreign direct investment (FDI) for the Union Territory was initiated by the creators of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, last year with their ambitious and intended multipurpose tower and retail mall on the outskirts of Srinagar. Around 10,000 employment opportunities are expected to be created in the Kashmir Valley as a result of the Rs 500 crore project. Moreover, bids totalling Rs 50,000 crore are being processed, while investment projects worth Rs 10,000 crore are being carried out in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Union Territory has received proposals worth Rs 84,544 crore till 2023 in as many as 42 industrial sectors in nearly three years after the Jammu and Kashmir administration launched a new industrial policy in January 2021.

Major decline in terror incidents

Modi government informed the Parliament in December of last year that there has been a notable decline in terror occurrences in Jammu and Kashmir over the last six years, with 2023 recording all-time low figures. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai stated that the government has a “zero tolerance against terrorism and its approach is to dismantle the terror ecosystem” in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha. He unveiled, “There were 42 terrorist-initiated incidents in Jammu and Kashmir till November 15 this year. In 2022, 125 such incidents were recorded in the region, 129 were recorded in 2021, 126 in 2020, 153 in 2019 and 228 in 2018.”

The minister added, “Due to this, there was also a reduction in civilian casualties resulting from terror incidents. The toll this year has been 13 so far, while 31 civilians were killed last year, preceded by 41 in 2021, 38 in 2020, 44 in 2019 and 55 in 2018. Rai also informed the Parliament that 44 gunfights between militants and security personnel took place in Jammu and Kashmir this year, as compared to 117 last year, 100 in 2021, 118 in 2020, 102 in 2019 and 189 in 2018. The toll of security personnel killed in action has also declined. This year, 20 security personnel lost their lives in terror incidents, as compared to 32 in 2022, 42 in 2021, 63 in 2020, 80 in 2019 and 91 in 2018.”

Record voting percentage in Kashmir

The Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, which was previously infamous for its high levels of terrorism reached a historic milestone by recording its highest-ever voter participation during the ongoing Lok Sabha election. The seat, where the first parliamentary polls were held here in 1967, recorded a healthy turnout of 59 per cent in the fifth phase of Lok Sabha elections. The Baramulla Lok Sabha seat reached its highest voter participation in 1984, with 59.10% of the vote cast. The achievement was also lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With a commendable 37.99% of votes cast in the districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal, Pulwama, Budgam, and partly Shopian, the fourth round of voting for the 18th general elections ended peacefully. Chief Election Officer, Pandurang K Pole stated, “The corresponding percentage for the last Lok Sabha election in 2019 was 14.43 per cent. This time, there was no boycott and no polling station recorded zero per cent or nil voting which speaks of people’s firm trust in the democratic system as imperative for their overall welfare.”

He attributed the significant increase in the polling percentage to several factors, including the enhanced security and law and order situation over the past four to five years, the mobilization of 24 candidates and political parties, the implementation of election awareness campaigns by the CEO office and Deputy Commissioners through SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation) activities, and, especially, the strong belief among people that voting can lead to sustainable development.

Image via Business Standard

Voter turnout in the notoriously low-voting constituencies of Srinagar and Baramulla was 38.49% and 59.10%, respectively, for the first time in decades. The greater voter turnout was credited by Home Minister Amit Shah to the revocation of Article 370, and he asserted that it was a “befitting reply” to concerns about what had changed following the centre’s decision in August 2019.

Conclusion

Repeating the words of Shehla Rashid, “I have not changed. Things have changed,” who once was a significant voice of the anti-Modi camp and rebuked the government on all its actions. Even the most vocal opponents of the Modi government were compelled to modify their views after witnessing the resurgence of Kashmir. Kashmir has indeed undergone a massive transformation for the better. While its other half “Azad Kashmir” is enduring brutal oppression at the hands of its administrators merely for seeking basic rights and needs, the Indian side is flourishing and making giant strides on the path of historical achievements and development.

The success story of Kashmir has spread across the world, reaching even India’s hostile neighbours. People in Pakistan-Occupied-Jammu and Kashmir are now also expressing a desire to join Indian Kashmir and raising the tricolour as they show their contempt and anger towards the administration. Kashmir now represents a positive symbol of a transforming, resilient and advancing India.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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