Big B has admirers in Beirut too
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Big B has admirers in Beirut too

The Bollywood superstar is by far the most popular Indian signifier in these parts, reports Shreevatsa Nevatia.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2006 02:27 IST

In 1999, the results of a BBC News Online poll declared Amitabh Bachchan to be the greatest star on screen to have lived in the past millennium. Those on the streets of Beirut prove that those voting on the net were all not entirely of Indian origin. Youssef Mroueh, 28,says, “I remember being seven or eight, Amitaabh Bachchaan’s (sic) films used to be shown on TV every other day. There was a civil war (1975-1990) going on outside but we would all escape from the troubles by watching the tall man’s films.”

Bachchan is by far the most popular Indian signifier in these parts. When asked what he knew about India, Hussain, a fast food vendor shook his head vigorously and said, “That is how Amitabh Bachchan used to dance. The action in his films was great but some of them had too much crying. I particularly loved Amar, Akbar, Anthony. I have seen some new films on the B4U channel but they all just seem so Western.”

This view is also held by 57-year-old Walid, who is one of the few Sunni refugees living in Beirut. After breaking into an impromptu version of Aaaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera, Walid nostalgically reminisces about the days of Shammi Kapoor — “He used to be the best when I was young. Whenever I came to Beirut, I would try and go and watch his film in a cinema that used to show Hindi films.” The cinema was broken down during the civil war, after which Walid made the most of dubbed and subtitled Bachchan films that would be shown on Lebanese television. For a self-proclaimed Bollywood film buff, however, Walid seemed to be a little out-of-date. He lamented, “Bachchaan has stopped acting now, so I have stopped watching Hindi films.”

Mohammad Feghali, owner of a DVD rental library called Video Link, explains this evident backlog. He elaborates, “For the last ten years or so this country has been consumed by Hollywood but there are still a few people who come in and ask me if I have a copy of an Amitabh Bachchan film.” Feghali, however, has to turn most of these people away because “the only Indian DVDs that you get are of new films that don’t have any buyers here. I myself have heard about Shah Rukh Khan but have never seen any of his films.”

The younger generation of Lebanon that could have perhaps been a prospective market for Bollywood is relatively clueless about all things Indian, let alone the song-and-dance routines. Bilaal, 14, says in an unabashed tone, “I don’t want to watch anything but American movies. My favourite is Macauly Culkin’s Home Alone. I watch it once every month.” Bilaal adds that the worst thing about this war is that all cinemas have remained closed for nearly a month.

First Published: Aug 09, 2006 02:17 IST