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|  Monday , December 8 , 2008


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Bachan’ & Bolly extra



Amitabh Bachchan: codeword for India

“Where from?”
Oh, Hind? Amitabh Bachan? Amitabh Bachan?”

Taxi driver Maher is not the only Egyptian who thinks that India means Amitabh Bachchan — or rather Bachan (that’s how they make it sound).

You go on a top-end dinner cruise on the Nile, you smoke a sheesha in the Khan Al Khalili market, you bargain over a piece of papyrus in front of the great pyramid in Giza… anywhere you say you are from India, they will greet you in only one way: “Oh, Amitabh Bachan!”

Most of them people have not seen any Bachchan film from start to finish. Nor has Bachchan made frequent trips to Egypt. The only time he was officially here in recent times was in 2001 when he went to the Alexandria International Film Festival for the Star of the Century award, a day before the World Trade Center attacks.

Shah Rukh Khan (Suraj hua maddham in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Akshay Kumar (Teri Ore in Singh is Kinng) are two superstars who have stretched their arms out wide in front of the Sphinx to telling tinsel effect but ‘Amitabh Bachan’ remains the password for India.

But just when you feel you are being had by locals out to con Indian tourists by dropping the magic name without any knowledge about Bollywood’s biggest star comes the Dekha na hai re socha na jig (from Bombay to Goa), straight from the heart. They may have seen little of the Lambu from Allahabad but they sure loved whatever they saw.

One of the few Indian films screened out of competition at the 32nd edition of the Cairo International Film Festival was Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear starring Bachchan as a veteran stage actor. The turnout for the screening at Grand Hyatt’s Good Cinema, the main hall for the festival, was big. The second screening was even bigger because by then word had spread that the old man on the screen was none other than Amitabh Bachchan!

“I have travelled with The Last Lear to many festivals across the world but the reaction I got in Cairo was very different, in the way that they all came to watch Amitabh Bachchan,” said Subho Sekhar Bhattacharya, the CEO of Planman Motion Pictures, that produced The Last Lear. “It was more like an Indian theatre where they come to watch their favourite star!”

Compared to the The Last Lear screening, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar was a thanda affair. The far more successful Bollywood film found few takers in ‘Bachan’ land.

Gaurang Jalan, the Indian representative at the Cairo International Film Festival, said: “I have been coming here for the past four years and Amitabh Bachchan is all I have ever heard from the people here. The next name they can come up with is Dharmendra.”

The obvious reason for this is that new Hindi films don’t release in Egypt. So access to Bollywood is limited to the pirated DVD vendors on the street who sell a Nastik or a Zameer alongside the latest Hollywood releases Max Payne and Transporter 3, all in Arabic subtitles.

“Bollywood is my main source of income alongside English films,” said DVD vendor Noor, who sells the Hindi film discs for 12 Egyptian pounds (around Rs 110) each. “Everyone only wants old Hindi films, not new ones.”

A big reason for that is the local Bollywood TV channel Zee Aflam which airs Hindi films dubbed in Arabic. There is always an Amitabh Bachchan special on air and the Egyptians invariably go and buy the DVDs of the films they like watching on television.

Dr ?? Bashir, the head of the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture said: “The movie channel is the constant local connect with Bollywood because it shows the films in their own language. For the new films, we have screenings at our own theatre which are attended not only by our Indian students but also by Egyptians. Here too, Bachchan is very popular and when we show a Baghban or an Ek Ajnabee, it is always full.”

But Shah Rukh can take heart from the fact that youngsters by the Nile are slowly warming up to the power of King Khan. “I know of Amitabh Bachchan but I am crazy about Shah Rukh… I saw him in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and he is so good. I want to go to India and meet him!” smiles mass communication student Mariam Abdalla.

While Mariam may come to India for Shah Rukh, Cairo is planning to bring down another Bachchan for its film festival next year — Aishwarya Rai.

Who do you think is the most popular Bollywood star in the world and why?