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City of stolen bicycles, Bollywood, gays

Walking down the main squares, I was surprised to see an unexpected familiar face - Aishwarya Rai who was smiling down at me from a billboard, writes Abhijit Das.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2007 13:28 IST

Stepping out of home one morning last week, I noticed my bicycle had been stolen. Again! It was no use getting angry. In Amsterdam this is part of daily life.

People with the right contacts can buy a stolen cycle for as little as 10 euros (Rs 550). A second hand bike bought legally costs 150 euros and a new one approximately 500 euros. Which option would you choose, specially if you were an impoverished student?

This is a a city which seems to have more bicycles than inhabitants. Bicycles rule the city’s traffic; cyclists consider themselves above the law. More reckless than Delhi bus drivers, they manoeuvre their way through the smallest gaps, ignoring all traffic rules.

The quickest way of getting around the city is on bicycle, but before one embarks on such a tour, one must learn the unwritten conventions of cycling here. Or else one is courting danger, and not only from motorised vehicles. Veteran cyclists will curb abuse at any newcomer stupid enough to stop at a red light!

Walking along one of Amsterdam’s main squares, I was pleasantly surprised to see an unexpected familiar face. Aishwarya Rai was smiling down at me from a high billboard. 

Bollywood has not only reached Amsterdam, it has settled down here.  In 2005 the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards ceremony was hosted here, but it was a financial disaster. Amsterdam was not ready at the time.

Since then the popularity of Bollywood movies has risen dramatically. Last week Pathe, The Netherlands biggest film distributor and movie hall chain, announced it would increase shows of Bollywood films as the number of people these movies attracted last year had ‘exceeded all expectations’.

Guru for instance, with Rai and Abhishek Bachchan in the lead roles, is expected to have four shows a day at Amsterdam’s largest movie hall very shortly.

Until very recently the only Indian films one got to see here were a few art movies which made it to film festivals and small theatres. Now there are at least a couple of viewings a day of the more popular Bollywood films.

And it is not only expatriate Indians who form the audience. Thanks to subtitles, media hype and word of mouth praise, the Dutch have started showing some interest in this (for them) new genre of movies.

If the trend continues and Bollywood can provide slick films with reasonable content, perhaps it could one day become the new Hollywood, even in The Netherlands.

While the popularity of this subculture is growing, another is in trouble. Amsterdam, which till recently was known as the ‘gay capital of Europe’, has lost the honour to Berlin.

The city's reputation has been tainted by the growing intolerance towards gay people. Though many locals too find events like the 'gay parade' (an annual carnival event celebrating homosexuality) a bit too much, they are unhappy and ashamed about the growing frequency of violent assaults on gays.

Many gay couples now refrain from any public displays of affection for fear of reprisals, mainly from North-African youth who are not able to take homosexuality in their stride.

It seems the city has taken a step back in time. After a long struggle in the 1990s, homosexuals were granted the same rights as heterosexuals. Gay marriage was legalized (Holland was the first country in the world to do this) and gay couples were allowed to adopt children.

The granting of these civil rights gave gay couples a legitimate place in society. It was expected that the same liberal spirit would be reflected in day-to-day life as well. But lately it has not.

Walking down a busy street recently I saw a group of young men mocking a gay couple. The couple just smiled and kept walking. The youths hesitated, did not pursue them. Perhaps this problem too will pass and Amsterdam will be able to hold on to its reputation of being a city which has room for everybody.