Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Dilwali does it

Bollywood is setting sail for the  skies, flying off to ever more exotic destinations, so why does Egypt not attract the Indian directors even though Indian cinema has a huge following in Egypt, asks Gamal Nkrumah

Dilwali does it
Dilwali does it
Al-Ahram Weekly

If there were a cinematic prize for nail-biting first lines in an Indian Bollywood song, then Gerua would win. “It starts with you and ends with you, like a Sufi tale of love,” so extrapolates the lyrics of Gerua, one of the hit songs of Dilwale, or “The Big Hearted”, is one of the most costly modern Bollywood blockbusters. It was the subject of discussion at a seminar staged by the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture of the Indian Embassy in Cairo. The music and lyrics of Gerua infuses a romantic tale that incorporates the staples of Indian cinema, Bollywood, wildly popular in contemporary Egypt. 

Every generation of Egyptians see the Indian movie in its own image, and Dilwali holds up a mirror to a contemporary global common cultural heritage. Dilwale is  due to be screened in Cairo shortly. And, in Egypt the film seems poised to deliver yet another grenade of bombastic Bollywood blockbusters.  It stars the eternal romantic couple Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol the couple that epitomises Bollywood romance. Shah Rukh Khan is the heartthrob of Egyptian lovers of Indian cinema. His dance and drama duo does it. 

A couple in love try to overcome the violent conflict between their respective families. This is a theme familiar to Egyptians, and the kitsch completes the show. The romantic song Gerua featuring the lead pair was shot, of all places, in Iceland.

“One cannot compare Dilwale with the depth and substance of Hollywood classics such as Devdas starring Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit, and of course featuring Shah Rukh Khan,” The vice President of the Indian-Egyptian Friendship Society, and an accomplished film critic and an expert on Hindi films Nadia Jereidini told Al-Ahram Weekly.”The song Tukur Tukur is typical of contemporary Bollywood,”Jereidini added. Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon dance like crazy in Tukur Tukur. The dance is conventional by contemporary Bollywood standards and the setting is kitsch, to say the least. This song, nevertheless, will eat your heart out. 

“Dilwale is immensely enjoyable despite an oh-my-God-this-is-so-predictable story,”extrapolates Ananya Bhattacharya of India Today. Strangely enough its initial release was in Indonesia, not India, in December 2015. Dilwale is an Indian take of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Dilwale made around $22 million worldwide in its opening weekend, the third highest of the year.The film was released in around 3,100 screens in India, and Jeredini lamented the fact that neither the ministries of culture or tourism promote Egypt as an enticing destination for the setting of Bollywood blockbusters such as Dilwali. 

In Egypt, however, the very word “Hindi” implies “mad”, “crazy” and “insane”. “Film Hindi” is a metaphor for “melodramatic”, “madness” and “insanity”. 

This was a topic that cropped up during an interview I conducted with the celebrated Indian novelist Amitav Gosh during a visit to Cairo some years back. The tradition of the ancient Spartans for brevity of speech, and hence laconic, is not shared by either Egyptians or Indians. The ephemeral is meaningless. Succinctness, so to speak, is in the very weightiness of speech, elocution and even doublespeak.  

All of this is told in a precision of speech which is written down in the bestselling In an Antique Land, by Gosh. The novel, contains two narratives. The first, an anthropological narrative, revolves around two visits made by Ghosh to two villages in Egypt’s Nile Delta while he was writing his doctoral dissertation (1980–81) and again a few years later (1988). The second narrative presented parallel to the first one in the book, Ghosh reconstructs the history of a 12th-century Jewish merchant, Abraham Ben Yiju, and his Indian slaves Ashu and Bomma, using documents from the Cairo Geniza, a unique and priceless collection of some 300,000 manuscript fragments that were found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue, Old Cairo and now archived in various libraries around the world. Yet, in Bollywood contemporary Egyptians see a different version of the Indian, not as the other, but as strikingly similar to Egyptians, which accounts for the popularity of Indian films in Egypt.The bombastic display of Bollywood cinematic drama is enticing, regardless of cultural distinctions. In Egypt, there are misconceptions of what Hinduism is. Many Egyptians, for instance, believe that Hindus worship cows, which is not true. They venerate the animal because of its bequeathing characteristics, much in the same manner as the ancient Egyptians depicted Hathor, the cow-headed goddess. Yes, most religious Hindus don’t eat its flesh, but unlike Muslims who do not eat pork because it is regarded as unclean, Hindus don’t eat beef precisely because it is sacred. 

Indeed, the fluidity  of perspective in the novel, which shifts between various characters and viewpoints, both modern and medieval, And, this is not a particularly passionate love story,  “Gerua” by Arjit Singh and Antara Mitra The song “Gerua” also had different regional Indian and international versions. An Arabic version called “Telagena” was released on 11 December 2015 graced by the voices of Adel Ebrahim, singing in Arabic and Antara Mitra in Hindi. The song has the stylistic soulful music by Pritam and the lyrics penned by Amitabh Bhattacharya are melodramatic. 

Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon dance their hearts out in this the brand new song from Dilwale. “The best thing to hold on in life, is each other! Go Malang with the love of your life” goes the lyrics of another Bollywood blockbuster, sang by yet another Indian star Aamir Khan’s Malang is just as consequential to every culture in the entire world. The role of celebrities is crucial as far as Bollywood is concerned. Aamir Khan is a Muslim, nevertheless the Star of David decorates the background, or is it backdrop, of Malang.  

“I just wish that the Egyptian ministries of culture and tourism encourage more Bollywood movies to be filmed in Egypt. A mayors of Frankfurt, Germany and Zurich, Switzerland, did their best to attract Bollywood directors to film their movies in their respective cities. We should do so in Egypt,” Jereidini told the Weekly. 

The director of Dilwali, Rohit Shetty, was born on 14 March, 1974 in Bombay, Mumbai. Youthful, creative and ambitious, his films have an idyllic parallel tension with the realities, often tragic, of life in the developing countries, that ultimately enriches. He made his way to the top of Bollywood. His Golmaal, a comedy film series made waves, then he came up with Dilwale. Born to Ratna, a Bollywood junior artiste and MB Shetty, a movie fight master, Shetty junior sets scenes in exotic destinations off the beaten track such as Iceland in Dilwali. 

Janam Janam, another chartbuster from Dilwale is composed by Pritam, with lyrics written by Amitabh Bhattacharya and once again sung by Arijit Singh and Antara Mitra wowed India and the world of Bollywood lovers. And, so did Meri Subah Tum Hi Ho.  

My personal favourite “Tum Hi Ho Aashiqui 2” is astounding, and touches on very Egyptian themes. The mother asks her daughter: “So you live with him in sin, my daughter, what would the world say”. 

And, then there is the Aashiqi 3 Trailer Tum Hi Ho, 2016, same song making a surprise comeback. And, then there is also Dareyee, a soft melodic ballad. These are the winning formulaic traditions of Bollywood that enchant people the world over, including Egyptians. 

In Egypt, Shah Rukh Khan is very popular, so any film starring him will be a blockbuster. Perhaps we all remember Shah Rukh Khan with Kareena Kapoor in his 2006 classic Bollywood Ye Mera Dil,” Egyptian film critic Magda Khirallah told the Weekly.

“Dilwale leans heavily on Shah Rukh’s mega-stardom, Varun’s effervescence, breathtaking locales (Iceland and Bulgaria), orchestrated car chases and over-the-top situations, which have you chuckling,” muses Meena Iyer of The Times of India.Principal photography began on 20 March 2015 with Dhawan in Goa.

Dilwale had the highest opening ever of a Bollywood blockbuster, even though it was released in Indonesia first, rather than in India. And, the second weekend gross earnings abroad were more than $20.5 million. Bollywood today rivals Hollywood. Despitethe secretive nature of Hollywood accounting, we know that Cleopatra, despite being the highest earning film of 1963, did not earn back its costs on its original release. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides officially holds the record with a budget of $378.5 million. The Hobbit Trilogy with combined costs of $623 million after tax credits is the most expensive Hollywood production to date.

Shah Rukh Khan is among the highest paid box office star in the world; His Haule haule, “Toss away your cares with a wink” a song sang with Anushka Sharma and Vinay Pathak hit the headlines. Dilwali is essentially about an obstacle course about dissonance. 

India’s Kollywood, the southern Indian Tamil answer to Bollywood is also making a mark in Egypt and throughout the world, even though Bollywood still has the edge. Dilwali is far from the perfect way to see Shah Rukh Khan, but it is the best way to see the popularity of Bollywood in Egypt today, and therefore essential viewing. 

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