Jordan's love for Bollywood burns bright among locals and desis despite limited new releases, steep ticket prices
In a country that barely speaks any Hindi, Jordan has a healthy Indian population (ten thousand at the last count) that peacefully co-exists with the locals. Add to that, a growing number of Indian tourists, who are increasingly getting fascinated by the country’s beautiful sites. Amidst all this, Bollywood is the currency that connects desis and the locals like no other.
Ahmed Aqrabawi has a different style of greeting Indian guests at the reception of his modest hotel situated right opposite the iconic Roman Theatre in the Jordanian capital Amman. This 49-year-old front desk manager breaks into a famous qawwali from the 1977 blockbuster Hum Kisise Kum Naheen. This is one of the first Bollywood films he had watched at a packed single-screen theatre in Amman, back in the day. “I remember scrounging for a ticket,” Ahmed says as he reminisces his love for Bollywood. He relives it by engaging in conversations with his desi patrons and watching old Bollywood films online. “Amitabh Bachchan,” he is quick to revert when inquired about his favourite Bollywood actor and among the actresses he loves Zeenat Aman.
But Ahmed is not the only local who follows Bollywood passionately. 23-year-old Waed Ossali works at a café at Amman’s Rainbow Street. His friends at college would often jam on popular Bollywood numbers at the music class. “Hum tere bin kahin reh nahi sakte,” Ossali hums the tune and is able to pronounce the name of the film Aashiqui 2, after a little help from me.
Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki!
For Jordanian youth, an Arabised entertainment channel called ‘MBC Bollywood’, launched in 2013 by the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), has played a major role in making Bollywood a household name. The channel broadcasts Bollywood films, entertainment shows and daily soaps from India. All the content is dubbed in Arabic.
And this has helped Indians find an easy connection with the locals. Among the few Indians who have made Jordan their home is Rashmi Yeolekar. A 35-year-old trained dancer in Bharatnatyam, who conducts Bollywood dance classes under the name ‘Bollywood Mudra Amman’. Rashmi moved here in 2017 from the United Kingdom with her Italian husband Alberto Quaggiotto, who heads modern languages at the International Community School (ICS). Interestingly, Abdul Hadi Nahleh, a Palestinian-Jordanian in the UK suggested the idea and connected Rashmi with local dancers in Jordan. Rashmi lined up a few workshops even before landing in Jordan. That kickstarted her journey, in which she has already trained hundreds of students in the last two years. This includes locals and expats from India and Pakistan.
“My aim is to introduce them to the authentic Indian dance culture through Bollywood,” explains Rashmi adding that the locals are pleasantly surprised when they realise that Bollywood dance is not only about latkaas and jhatkaas. Rashmi feels quite vindicated when her students learn that one can tell a story and express through dance. Although, her biggest challenge is to explain the technical and cultural background of dance in India, which is also integral to Bollywood.
Less is more
Among the sporadic events held by the Indian mission in Amman to cross-promote art and culture is the ‘Bollywood Film Nite’. In February 2018, screening of Akshay Kumar starrer Padman was organised by the Indian embassy and the Ministry of Tourism in Amman.
Despite its growing popularity, only a handful of Bollywood films have been shot in Jordan so far. Hrithik Roshan starrer Krrish 3 and director Pooja Bhatt’s Kajraare were the only two films shot in Jordan in the last few years. There aren’t too many star sightings as well. Priyanka Chopra visited Amman on a goodwill mission back in September 2017 to meet Syrian refugee kids.
Only a select few Bollywood films release in Amman. They are screened with Arabic subtitles, but the tickets are steeply priced (7 to 10 Jordanian Dinar), most prefer to consume the content on television or online.
Jordan’s love for Bollywood is old, but it hasn’t been all too consistent. However, with desis like Rashmi and locals like Ahmed and Waed, Bollywood song and dance is certainly here to stay.
Ronak Kotecha is a film critic and expert on all things Bollywood from Mumbai and Dubai.
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