Amitabh Bachchan everyday
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Amitabh Bachchan everyday

It is not only in India that Amitabh Bachchan is the ?Big B?, the unparalleled icon of the masses. He is also the ?Big B? in Egypt, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2007 00:57 IST

It is not only in India that Amitabh Bachchan is the ‘Big B’, the unparalleled icon of the masses. He is also the ‘Big B’ in Egypt. He dominates the entertainment market of this Arabic speaking country like a colossus.

Whether it is a taxi driver in metropolitan Cairo or a rustic farmer toiling on the banks of the river Nile in Aswan, there is one cry that goes up in unison for ‘Amitabachaan’. Strangely, only a few in Egypt have heard of the Khans, and Shah Rukh seems to be no exception.

The moment Egyptians set their eyes on an Indian they break into a chorus: “India? Amitabachaan!” The man seems to be synonymous with India. And what do they like about him? It is clarified: it’s not his acting ability, poise, sophistication or even the way he delivers his lines. It’s his brawn, they say. “He strong man!” they chime. No wonder the other Indian favourites are Dharmendra and Mithun Chakraborty.

In a time warp

Egyptians are caught in a time warp as far as Indian films go, hooked as they are to the movies of the 1970s and the 80s. The movies run even in the ramshackle and garish cinemas of small towns. Shops with Bachchan videos do brisk business. And when it comes to Hindi songs, they firmly believe: Old is gold. The ringtone of our driver’s cellphone is impressive too. Awara hoon, the phone weeps with the theme song of the 1950s, in the Raj Kapoor classic, Awara.

But Egypt has its own flourishing music industry. The music is very contemporary and the production is simply outstanding. The voice of Elissa is bound to haunt even those who listen to her on the 24-hour music channel run by former President Anwar Sadat’s son.

Egypt is one country in the world where Indians are actually liked. Indian window shoppers are not given a cold shoulder, however, Indian tourists are a rare sight.

In Southern Egypt, the local Nubian shopkeepers cleverly use their brown skins to strike a special kinship with Indians. Their line: “Look brother, we same colour! How can I cheat you? I offer good price,” is an oft-repeated sales gimmick to entice penny-wise Indians.

But the ‘good’ price may be 10 times the usual. Bargaining being the norm, one is advised to stick to one price. The shop keeper will try every trick in the book to cajole and flatter the customer into submission.

Egyptians are not prudish. Sexual innuendos pepper talk on the streets. A salesman at a well-known perfumery said to my son-in-law: “You will become a horse in the bed if your wife uses this perfume.” In Cairo, couples show more intimacy in public than here in India.

Cairo also has an amazing system of flyovers, broad tree-lined roads and glitzy shopping malls. It only requires a coat of fresh paint. The cars too are mostly classic, sputtering and fuming with bodies about to crack.

Mobile mania

The cell phone will surely be voted as the greatest invention in this land of chatterboxes. Drivers in Cairo merrily chat while weaving through the rush hour, changing lanes at will.

Egypt is an avowedly Islamic country, but Islam here does not interfere with the Egyptians’ passion for vogue. Both men and women are extremely well turned out. Locals say that the men and women spend a good part of their income on fashion accessories and body and skin care products. Sure enough, the Islamic dress code is in, but the code is observed strictly in a way that it doesn’t offend.

Cairo is home to 15 million, mostly poor, people, yet it does not stink. Apparently, Egyptians are also known not to
relieve themselves on the roads, canals and river banks, which is alarming considering we do.

Egyptian food is known to warm the cockles of the gourmet’s heart. The ample girth of the men here would testify to this. A judicious use of olive oil and local spices gives the dishes a quaint but very pleasant taste. Any Indian’s heart will leap in joy just looking at the giant sizes of the cauliflowers, tomatoes and carrots.

Needless to say, Egypt has much to show off in terms of its culture and history. Its Pharaonic, Islamic and Colonial pasts are extremely well preserved and proudly displayed. Roads linking historical sites are excellent.

Given its history of terrorist attacks, police escort tourists going to sites deep in the desert. It remains mandatory to move in convoys.

Alexandria is a fascinating mix of the West and the East. The Roman amphitheatre and the Catacombs signify its links with Europe. The Catacombs even have a dining hall for the dead, complete with huge dining table made of stone.

The bazaar, however, is entirely oriental with its own culture of co-existence. The relationship between the hundreds of roadside shopkeepers and the city’s tramcars on the crowded streets are charming. The carts will be occupying the tram line, but when the tramcar comes, they move from there without a fuss. And the moment the tramcar passes by, the carts appear on the tramline again.

First Published: Jan 27, 2007 00:57 IST