Readers Write In #195: My journey to Indian cinema and this blog

Posted on May 26, 2020


(by Hakimo Brahim Belaout)

If you happen to mention something about Indian cinema while you are in Algeria the most obvious response would be ” Janitou “. A term that literally has no meaning is actually a mispronounced and wrongly written abbreviation of “ Jaane Tu “. If you demand a clearer hint or explication then there is a high chances that you will hear someone singing ” Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na “. Yes, you are right, it is a line from a song composed by R.D Burman for a lesser known Manmohan Desai directed film called Aa Gale Lag Jaa, starring Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore. The film that turned out to be a crazy Hit in Algeria and it became the ultimate national example regarding Indian cinema. My father told me many stories about the madness that surrendered the film ( and Indian films in general in 70s ) regular housefulls and the struggle to get a ticket. The film’s legacy continued with huge TRPs on TV later. Watching Indian cinema was a routine for my father and many Algerians back then until the late 80s, just before the beginning of the civil war when the religious extremists wasn’t happy and they implied an unofficial ban on cinema theaters and that tradition faded forever.

After 10 years the war finally reached an end but everything has changed, the cinemas remained shut and watching Indian film wasn’t cool anymore. My first true Indian cinema moment would be while watching Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se (something I discovered much later ) as a kid singing a mispronounced version of Chaiyya Chaiyya (I sang it as Kaiyya Kaiyya ). The twist here is that I forget this moment totally.

I was interested in cinema since my childhood, watching Hollywood films with subtitles meant a lot for me and it was an almost regular activity. My interest in Indian cinema ( mostly Hindi films ) started in mid 2000s. the Algerians abandoned Indian cinema but it was a hot trend in the rest of the Arabic world and there was a tradition of broadcasting an Indian film every weekend. I don’t recall how it started or the first film I watched but It had to do with my curiosity to discover something new and my love for cinema. Most of the films were Shah Rukh and Salman films from the 90s and the early 2000s but I remember watching Dil Se ( again! Without knowing that ) the moment I heard Chaiyya Chaiyya, I felt something. The tune was very familiar as was the film. And in a strange surreal moment dead memories began to visualise. It felt like a deep relation. I loved everything: the film, the songs, the format and the language. In that moment I became a regular Hindi film viewer.

There wasn’t many takers for Indian cinema in my environment. The new generation hated the melodrama and mocked the unrealistic action scenes, and following the Indian cinema wasn’t something to be proud of. But that what the internet was made for. One of the most known Arabic forums (Startimes ) created a whole space for Indian cinema. I met there many crazy Indian cinema fans. It was surprising and refreshing. Interacting with many guys knew Indian cinema more than me in my mother tongue. The whole discussion there was mainly for mainstream cinema. We knew the box office’s details, we shared the last songs and I was the vice president of the Shah Rukh Khan fans club ( the forum is still active though not many visitors are there ).

Years later, many channels saw a big potential in the Arabic speaking audience. It started with Zee launching a channel for the Arabic audience (didn’t like it because they dubbed the films ) then one of the biggest players of the Arabic TV space launched a whole channel dedicated to Hindi films in 2013 (it is called MBC Bollywood, a channel in which you will find the new films, the new daily soups and the new season of Koffee with Karan but this time with Arabic subtitles). This leaded to create a bigger audience, the Indian films became cool again and the social media helped it to spread more with hundreds of thousands of followers, many Facebook groups and crazy fans for Bollywood ( and even south films ) actors.

But for someone like me the cinema wasn’t just this level of entertainment. I wanted it to be more and I wanted to discover – like I did with other countries’s cinema – the Indian art films. To get that I needed an access to Indian critics and to live without the Arabic subtitles and I faced the same problem again, there was no takers for this even from the fans of Indian cinema I knew.

By the first research I discovered Rajeev Masand’s reviews. They were short and accessible, then Raja sen’s reviews, slightly different, then I discovered this blog in 2010. Someone mentioned your name in the comments. I remembered the first piece I read. It was about the music of Guzaarish, it was a very long one. But by then I had a serious problem, as an Algerian my second language was French. I had terrible English ( I don’t know how much it improved since then ) and to read and enjoy all theses reviews and pieces I needed to start learning English first ( I did and eventually I even run a Facebook page dedicated to subtitling the Indian songs and trailers based on the English translation but I stopped in 2016 ).

I became a regular visitor for this blog specifically since 2014, the brilliant Highway review ( which finally I can understand every word of it ) convinced me to follow this blog religiously. I chose to remain a silent reader because I felt a sense of being an outsider. This level was enough for me. The small interaction with people in other places raised their curiosity on how could someone from Algeria have this level of the knowledge of Indian cinema that was at odds with my introvert nature.  But in the last couple of years I became a part of many Indian films groups and I am pretty sure that most of members thought that I’m an Indian. I never imagined that I can write something on the blog of one of my favourite critics. The thoughts that I had while watching the recent #ASKBR was overwhelming, and I felt that I needed to share it here.

This was a very short and summarized personal story, I wished I was more skilled writer but that is it.