“I am a Muslim. I am not a terrorist,” the young man said. He wasn’t trying to convince any one of his faith or innocence. In fact, in his enthusiasm for Hindi movies, he had wrongly recollected the often-quoted line from Shahrukh Khan’s movie, My Name is Khan. The actual line was: “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”
He might have got the quote a little wrong but there was no mistaking his love for Hindi movies.
The man, in his early ‘20s and a resident of Kashgar in the south of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), also did not launch an anti-government tirade though members of his Muslim Uyghur community are often accused, arrested and sentenced – to death in some cases – on terrorism charges by the Communist Party of China (CPC)-ruled Chinese government.
Instead, he talked about the popularity of Hindi movies in Xinjiang. “`My name is Khan’ was very popular,” he said, adding that many people had watched it in Kashgar.
Khan’s popularity is not restricted to Kashgar alone. And he is not the only Khan who is popular. So is Salman. So is Hrithik Roshan.
For some quaint reason, Kajol seemed to a darling among many.
Few months ago, three Uyghur men were arrested by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) apparently because they were inspired to come to India after watching the movies of Shahrukh and Hrithik. Media in India reported that they wanted to escape extreme poverty of their region in Xinjiang and were influenced by the escapist fare of films.
Fortunately for most Uyghurs, there are easier options to get their frequent dozes of Hindi films – pirated DVDs, dubbed in the Uyghur language, and the internet.
Umer, a resident of Turpan township about 180 km from capital Urumqi, is part of a group that dances to Uyghur music in the Mai Xi Lai Fu restaurant whenever a customer orders a full lamb.
Lately, his favourite dance tune is from another Shahrukh-starrer, Om Shanti Om.
Umer has the song downloaded on his smart phone and readily shows a couple of his moves once the song started playing.
In the Grand Old Bazaar of Urumqi, music and movie shops have posters of Indian stars pasted all over the walls.
“We like the music and dancing as we ourselves love to sing and dance both when we are happy or sad,” said the middle-aged lady at the counter, dressed conservatively with her head covered in a scarf.
The New Theatre hall in Urumqi was packed on September 3 when the Indian Embassy in Beijing held a cultural evening.
It started with Indian classical dances but the audience – a mix of both Uyghur and Han communities -- went to raptures with their applause and camera-phones when local girls danced to Hindi songs like “Kajra Re”.
The cliché about the popularity of Hindi films, quite clearly, is true even in one of China’s remotest corners.