Ladakh lies at the northernmost tip of India, sparsely populated with just a quarter of a million people in an area twice the size of the Netherlands. The people, of largely Tibetan descent and divided fairly equally between Buddhist and Muslim, live in arguably the most beautiful place on Earth – a true shangri-la, at least in appearance, tucked between the Kunlun and Himalayan mountain ranges.
Now Ladakh has its own movie industry. Thanks to the advent of light and modestly priced digital technology, local film-makers are able to emulate their peers in Mumbai and elsewhere. Surprisingly, perhaps, considering the low or nonexistent budgets, the locally-made romantic melodramas, such as Las-Del, Del-Wa and Tsetems are proving to be as popular in the local cinemas as their big-budget rivals from Bollywood. “Ladakhis may aspire to be like the Bollywood heroes and heroines but they don’t relate to them, says a spokesperson from Ladakh Vision Group, the largest filmmakers, “They want to see someone who looks and feels like them.”
One of the stars of ‘Laddywood’ is Norzum, a local police officer who hopes one day to act in Bollywood. She gets a little bored with the sad, melodramatic roles she has to keep repeating nearer to home. “I want the kind of roles Kajol does,” she explains, “Those naughty ones. I find her very cute!”
One devotee of Ladakh is Bollywood actress Gul Panag who makes an annual pilgrimage there, which she says helps her to find herself – and the innovative monochrome movie Frozen, a festival favourite of a couple of years ago, told the story of a family living in the region. It starred the very beautiful Gauri Kulkarni who was awarded the Best Actress Award for her role at the Vladivostock and Thessaloniki International Film Festivals.