One thing I have learnt from my travels over the past few years is to really appreciate Bollywood. This may seem to be a strange thing to say as I am myself from India, the home of Bollywood, so why should other countries make me appreciate it more? Well it is odd, but you see, many of the countries I have recently visited have made me realize that it ‘s not just me that doesn’t fully appreciate Bollywood, it’s my entire generation. Through speaking to Bollywood fans all over the world, I for one have certainly started realizing the importance of Bollywood and what it has done for India as a whole.
The past generations have been enchanted by Bollywood, and I have to admit, there is something rather romantic and entrancing about it all. The glamorous outfits, the beautiful actors, the catchy songs and the amazing dancing. But I didn’t really think Bollywood had any great impact beyond the boundaries of India, yet during my travels I have discovered and it has been thriving for years in the unlikeliest of places. From being the main source of entertainment in communist countries to being a source of solace and respite for people in war torn countries.
I’ve found that people from all corners of the world are singing our songs without even knowing the language, they talk about our culture without having visited the country and of course you cannot understate how much of an influence it has been in encouraging travellers to choose India as a destination of choice. Many foreigners even dream of working in Bollywood after watching the movies.
Experiences when Bollywood helped me in Ex-Soviet Countries:
The very first time I realised the influence of Bollywood on a global scale was when I was travelling across Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Here I met people that knew and appreciated Bollywood more than I did. Being ex-Soviet countries, there was a period where Bollywood movies and Indian TV shows were the main source of entertainment in the Soviet Union. Most of the older generation in these countries have grown up watching Bollywood movies, and to them it was a big part of their childhood.
Mithoon and Raj Kapoor were the two major stars of that generation and the people there absolutely love them to this day. So many times while I was there, as soon as people found out that I was Indian, their tone would change, they’d suddenly become more animated, enthusiastic and interested in me. They would straight away ask me about Bollywood, Raj Kapoor or just start singing “Jimmy Jimmy”! I’ve managed to have conversations with people who didn’t speak a word of English, purely by using a mixture of hand gestures and references to Bollywood!
Another interesting moment was when I was at immigration in Azerbaijan. Now I was all prepared for a thorough grilling as I had an Armenian stamp in my passport and these situations can be a little nerve-wracking on occasion, which made what happened next all the more amusing. The immigration officer saw from my passport that I was Indian, and the first words that came out of her mouth were “Tum Kaisse ho?” (“How are you” in Hindi), which was followed by her bursting into a rendition of “Jimmy Jimmy”.
She was genuinely very happy to see an Indian person and she explained how Bollywood was such a big part of her childhood and her love of Bollywood had led her to learn Hindi and eventually to visit India a couple of times. Hearing that something from your country has so massively influenced other people’s lives is pretty amazing, and throughout my whole trip across the Caucasus, I got very positive vibes from people as soon as they found out that I was Indian.
On yet another trip to ex- soviet countries, I once again discovered the influence of Bollywood. I had travelled to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. In Central Asia, Bollywood is prominent for the same reasons as it is in the Caucasus region. Uzbekistan, out of all the ex-soviet countries is still strongly connected to Bollywood. There are many stores that sell posters of the current actors, TV channels repeatedly show Indian movies and they even have a Hindi radio station.
One day, while in Tajikistan part way through tackling the world’s greatest road trip, I stayed in an extremely remote village and incredibly we had a blast with my guide and his friends. We listened and danced to Bollywood songs in a place high up in the Pamir Mountains and to my surprise the locals knew the lyrics better than I did. They absolutely love the song “Mera Joota hai Japani” and of course “Jimmy Jimmy”. In such a remote part of the world, where the culture is so different, where we didn’t speak the same language and had very little in common, Bollywood connected us.
How Bollywood helped me in Afghanistan:
But out of all my experiences, Afghanistan was the one that truly made me realize how influential Bollywood has been for some people. I was in a small town called Eshkashim, and it seemed as if everyone I met had in some way been influenced by Bollywood. From people copying an actor’s style of dress or haircut, to discovering shops and rooms in people’s homes filled with posters of Bollywood stars. Some had even learnt Hindi just by watching Bollywood movies.
Afghanis love Indians and as soon as they found out that I was Indian, people would make sure that I was treated like a celebrity guest. They would order food for me, invite me to stay at their homes, give me small gifts from their stores and one friend I made took me to Sarhad for free. A trip that normally costs $350 by taxi, one way. It was such a heart-warming gesture and I have never experienced anything quite like it in all my travels.
Although there was a language barrier, Bollywood was once again the common factor. I was lucky enough to meet a few people who had learnt Hindi by watching Indian movies. By talking to them I could really gain a much deeper understanding of Afghanistan. Through my conversations with one of the locals, eventually we became great friends. He explained to me in Hindi all about Afghanistan and the situation there and also told me that Indian movies had been an important way for him to deal with the hardships of living in Afghanistan. He said that the movies had made him dream and follow his brother who had previously found a way to get to India and work there.
Over the last two years, the countries I have visited have really hit me hard and enabled me to see the power and influence of Indian Cinema. I never thought that such a thing would become a prominent part of my journey and help me in the remotest of places to build strong connections with people. Being Indian has really been a massive advantage in these countries where I was treated so warmly.