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In the Arab world, Bollywood rules

By Hindol Sengupta, IANS

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Egyptian producer Hisham Abdel Khalek guffaws each time he tells his "Bachchan tale" - an anecdote he uses to describe the phenomenal popularity of Bollywood in the Arab world.

"I once took Jaya Bachchan shopping in Cairo when the Bachchans were attending a film festival there," said Khalek, 24, and one of the Arab world's youngest and most influential film producers.

"A shopkeeper looked at her and said, 'You madam, Indian?' She said, yes.

He gave the widest grin ever and asked, 'You know Amitabh Bachchan?'

"She laughed and said, 'He is my husband.' The man almost had a heart attack. He just couldn't believe that the wife of the great Amitabh Bachchan had walked into his shop. Finally, convinced after a long time, he mopped his brow, grinned again and said, 'For you, madam, big, big discount.'"

It's an adulation, filmmakers from the Arab world attending the sixth Asian film festival in New Delhi said, that cuts across all boundaries in their home countries.

The festival this year has a special Arab focus showcasing 13 films from the region.

"Bollywood is loved by everyone," said Paris-based Afghan director Atiq Rahimi, who one day wants to work with Indian superstars like Bachchan and, Shah Rukh and Aamir Khan.

That's why names like Madhubala, Nargis, "Sholay", Rekha, "Mera Naam Joker" rattle off their lips every time they talk of Indian cinema.

"I grew up loving Bollywood," said Iranian director Tahmineh Milani.

"Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, lots of wonderful actors and films that I can
never forget."

Till the 1960s, Arab cinema was dominated by the Egyptian film industry, with the country producing about 100 films a year, which competed in all Arab markets.

But, in the 1990s, conflict hurt the film centres of the Arab world like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Today most of these countries, apart from Egypt, only make about a handful of films every year, though the Cinema Institute of Cairo remains a beacon of light.

So Bollywood and Indian cinema has taken the space of mainstream cinema in the Arab world. "You walk down the streets of Cairo and just count the number of posters of Indian actors. You will know how popular Bollywood is," said Khalek.

Agreed director Taieb Louhichi from Tunisia: "India cinema has a great hold on the people. They just cannot get enough of it."

Even the great Makhmalbafs from Iran's legendary cinema family are enamored
by Indian cinema. "Bollywood has lots of colour which is fascinating," said

Mohsen Makhmalbaf. "The greatest of course is Satyajit Ray."


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