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Uttarakhand: The Dawning of a New Age


By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

It’s happened at last. The day we settled down to write this column we got a phone call from Gopal Krishna Annam. He had visited us years ago to get our signatures on two of our books.  Gopal had been educated in Mussoorie as his father was on the staff of LBSNAA. He is now a film maker and he wanted to start a Film Festival in Mussoorie. After a brief flash of scepticism, something clicked in our minds.  The chips of ideas of various shapes, sizes and colours shifted, twisted and fell into place to form an amazing mosaic.

A Film Festival is one of the most effective ways of attracting the enormous film industry to the festival site. If film makers flocked into Uttarakhand, they would realise its great untapped resources for this fabulous industry.  Uttarakhand has an enormous range of terrains from the tropical forests of the terai to the glaciers and snowfields of the Himalayas. Its people are very photogenic. Its vast storehouse of knowledge is available in its schools, colleges and research centres. Its customs, traditions and festivals are extremely varied. In other words, it has all the backgrounds for all types of films. Uttarakhand, therefore, does not need a film city because it is virtually a natural film state. All it needs is the Centre for the processing of films. And thanks to the digital revolution, this processing has been simplified.  From the day in which our cameras were the size of shoulder held bazookas to today’s hand-held cameras the size of a human palm, creativity has taken a great leap forward. This has also affected the expectations of viewers. Now that you can capture the flight of a bumble bee fertilising a flower or the strangely coordinated behaviour of a pride of hunting lions, viewers no longer demand a cast of thousands which was the hallmark of the old movie tzars. Nature is the new wonderland of viewers and Uttarakhand has it in fascinating variety.

In other words, what is most important from the point of view of Uttarakhand is that the film industry has shifted from the mammoth crowd scenes and urban locales to the Great Outdoors. Clearly, therefore, the industry most suited for Uttarakhand is film making. But though we thought so, we needed to have the opinion of experts in this industry. Our first contact was the owner-publisher of this paper, Satish Sharma. He has acted in 20 Bollywood movies, 1 South Indian and 2 web-series. He teamed up with his childhood friend the journalist and author, Anjali Nauriyal, to create the company Enchanting Himalayas. This company helps film producers negotiate the complexities of filming in Uttarakhand. We asked Anjali if she would be able to help filmmakers in identifying the specific places in Uttarakhand to meet the needs of their scripts.  She assured us that she could do so.

Now things began to fall into place. With the Enchanting Himalayas theme able to take care of Line Production, the next step is to create an awareness of film making as an important industry in our state. Uttarakhandis have to realise that cinema is not just entertainment but is also a powerful influencer of civic consciousness. It is essential that the people of our state realise this. Cinema not only entertains but it can bring local problems to the fore. That is what Film Festivals do. Clearly, this was an idea poised to emerge. It was welcomed by many influential citizens of our state.

Sandeep Sahni, President of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Uttarakhand, offered the auditorium of his hotel, The Fern Brentwood, to screen the films of the Festival. Other well-wishers of our state joined to contribute their specialised talents. Very importantly the first film to be screened at the Mussoorie Film Festival would be Shrishti Lakhera’s “Ekh Tha Gao’’. This deals with Uttarakhand’s most serious problem: ghost villages caused by the migration of our people in search of a livelihood.

We asked ourselves if picturesque and remote locations attracted film makers. If they did, would not ghost villages become popular locations?  Producers would not need to build picturesque settings for their stories when all they needed to do was to take their unit to such abandoned settlements. The presence of such existing habitations would more than justify the ferrying of film crews by chopper.

But quite apart from the boost to the local economy that such film making would provide, there is also the continuing publicity given whenever this experience is screened. Every movie featuring the scenes shot in our state should carry the credit line: “The Himalayan scenes were shot in Uttarakhand”.

Our state tourism officials seem to be obsessed with pilgrim traffic. But that is not tourism. It is a religious activity. Tourism caters to the human need to relax, unwind and recharge emotional batteries. Thanks to the digital revolution, satellite communication and the virtual demolition of the wall between the office and home, work pressures are increasing. It is therefore essential to get away and unwind.  The human mind and body need this. It is only in those moments of leisure that we can eliminate the toxins built up during high pressure work. This was realised as far back as 1911.  Life was much slower at that time.  There were no smart phones, jet flights or satellite communication to shrink time and space.  And yet the Welsh poet HW Davies said: “What is this life but full of care if you have no time to stand and stare.”

Leisure has become a prime necessity in today’s world. Our Himalayan hill station was the therapeutic leisure centre of the British Raj.  When the Dharma Chakra spins it repeats past events in a modern form. As we mentioned at the beginning of this column. this has now begun to happen.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement
Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.) (The opinions and thoughts expressed here reflect only the authors’ views!).