• Publish Date: Jun 3 2019 2:47AM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 3 2019 2:48AM

Gulzar  Ahmad Bhat took an American customer around the lake in his Shikara, he had no idea he would act in a film 

In the summer of 2018 when Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, a boatman in the Dal, took an American customer around the lake in his Shikara he had no idea he would act in a film and walk a red carpet at an international festival. 

For days Bhat, 32, rowed the foreigner around to the interiors of the Dal in his Shikara.

“He was taking shots with his camera throughout the shikara rides. I didn’t make any sense of it all. This is what I have been seeing visitors do all my life,” said Bhat, who has been rowing shikara since he was 14 to support his family including five sisters and a brother.

When it was time for his foreign customer to leave, he asked Bhat if he would be comfortable to work in a film about Kashmir.

“I said yes to him without even giving it a second thought,” said Bhat, eyes gleaming.

The boatman’s customer was Musa Sayyed, a Kashmiri-origin American filmmaker.  

They stayed in regular touch until 2010 when Sayyed informed Bhat that he was coming to Kashmir to shoot his film ‘Valley of Saints’ produced by Hollywood director Nicolas Bruckman.

“I was excited to do a role in the film. Then I was told that I had to work as lead character. My excitement knew no bounds,” said Bhat.

Once the crew arrived in Kashmir for shooting the film in the summer of 2010 protests broke out across the valley. 

“It was a time when curfew was imposed even in Dal Lake. We shot scenes during the hours of relaxation in the curfew.” 

Bhat says the situation turned out in line with the script of the film which was a story about a Kashmiri shikarawalla stuck in the restive territory and aspiring to make it rich away the violence at home.

“It certainly helped in a way that I just had to be myself. This was exactly what the director also wanted me to do,” said Bhat.

Once released, the film received recognition and awards, including Sundance Film Festival World Dramatic Audience Award in 2012, among international audiences and Bhat’s acting skills were acclaimed.

The film’s success turned into an opportunity for Bhat to travel to Europe for the first time, a dream he had nursed since childhood.

“My father died when I was six. When I grew a bit older, family responsibility fell on my shoulders. While riding visitors in my shikara from different cities and countries, I dreamt of visiting those places myself one day. I didn’t know how, but then Allah had this in store for me.”

Bhat recalls, in the September of 2012 when he became the first Kashmiri to trot on the ‘Red Carpet’, a symbol of film world’s glitz and glamor, he couldn’t control his tears in Germany’s Hamburg.

“It was so surreal. I could hear people standing across pointing towards me that here is the Kashmiri who has acted in this film. Fortunately, my film was also screened first to throw open the film festival in Germany,” said Bhat, adding it was a “magical night” for him.

Back in Kashmir, not many seemed to recognise Bhat for his achievement, but he has no regrets.

He continues rowing his shikara and taking visitors around Dal lake on his boat named ‘Phir wahee dil laya hoon’. 

Although he received some acting offers from production houses but his family responsibilities are keeping him home for now.

Bhat’s life is explained by a line at the end of ‘Valley of Saints’ that “the world was not meant to be perfect. It’s like this lake. It only reflects what’s on it,”.