(July 21, 9:15 am) Picture this: Five African guys dressed in white shirts standing on a dirt road in some part of the continent immaculately singing Shah Rukh Khan‘s Bholi Si Surat from his 1996 film Dil Toh Pagal Hai. That’s the power of Bollywood. Films transcend boundaries and create a lasting impact in the minds of people. Continental Africa‘s love for Bollywood is not new, but the heartwarming viral videos of Africans singing Hindi songs are proof that our films have touched millions of Africans some 6,000 km away.
It was in the 1950s that Bollywood knocked on the doors of Africa. With Hollywood films licensing a little hefty on their pockets, Africans found a perfect substitute in Bollywood films. The themes and plots, besides the song and dance routine of Bollywood films, hit home for Africans, and despite no dubbing, Hindi films ran packed houses in every part of the continent.
The love affair that began in the 1950s is still growing strong with each passing day. Every country in Africa shares a bond with Bollywood that speaks of its culture and vibrancy.
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The Bollywood-themed radio shows of Mali
Bollywood has even enchanted the people of Bamako in Mali. Nestled on the banks of a calm Niger river, Bamako boasts of rich history, diverse linguistic and cultural traditions. But this West African country’s love for Bollywood is an open secret. Even the 8,604 km distance between Mumbai and Bamako is no spoiler for Mali citizens who simply love Bollywood and Indian culture.
Anjani Kumar, Ambassador of India to the Republic of Mali told Financial Express,
“There is a big fan base in Mali for the Bollywood cinema, song, and dance. My meeting with singer Mofas Khan was truly enriching. An ardent Indophile who has never been to India but his love for our country and culture is admirable. He is a passionate singer who has learnt Hindi without a teacher. He presents a weekly radio program called India Gaana dedicated to Bollywood in which he painstakingly interprets Hindi songs in Bambara, the lingua franca of Mali and West Africa, and also gives information about the film personalities.”
Hailing from a village in Mopti, Mofas Khan expresses his love for India through Bollywood songs. Like many Bamako residents, Khan, too, grew up on a rich diet of Bollywood films and has been in love with the Indian culture ever since. It was Rote Rote Hasna Seekho from Andha Kanoon that Khan crooned for the first time, and since then, there has been no looking back for this Indophile.
But Khan is not the only known Bollywood aficionado in Mali. Seydou Dembele is another resident of the country who wears his love for Bollywood up his sleeve. A school teacher by profession, Dembele was introduced to Hindi cinema by his father who used to work at a theatre where Bollywood films were screened. For the last 23 years, he has been presenting a radio show on Bollywood songs every Sunday afternoon.
Such has been his popularity that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned him during Mann Ki Baat last year.
When Seduji visited #Kumbh and at that time he was part of the delegation that I met, his passion for India, affection and love are indeed a matter of pride for all of us: PM @narendramodi #MannKiBaat #PMonAIR pic.twitter.com/RC2HtjBBQQ
— All India Radio News (@airnewsalerts) September 27, 2020
The love for Bollywood music is not just restricted to radio shows but has also spread its wings across cultural groups that promote Indian music and dance.
“Yaarana Hindustani, Bollywood Fans International, and Dostiare are three prominent cultural groups in capital Bamako. These groups periodically organize cultural events that bring together Malian artists, singers, and dancers who have dedicated themselves to different aspects of Indian culture,” added Kumar.
Ghana’s love story with Bollywood classics
Some 1,100 kilometers away, Rex Cinema in Ghana’s Kumasi had become a favorite with Bollywood fans during the 1960s as the theatre played Bhagwan Dada and Geeta Bali‘s Albela every Friday for a year, selling out its 2,000-seat capacity each week.
It was the post-colonial period that brought Bollywood films to the shores of Ghana. The recurrent themes of community, honor, morality and family values resonated with the people of Ghana, kindling their love for Bollywood.
In the capital city of Tamale, old Hindi films like Albela (1951), Love In Tokyo (1966), Noorie (1979), and Andha Kanoon (1983) are still viewed by residents in their homes and neighborhood video centers. The people of Ghana devour Hindi films, and their love for Bollywood can be seen across innumerable DVD shops.
While the Bollywood classics are a hit with Ghanaians, the older Dagomba viewers outright rejected the Bollywood films of the 90s citing cultural and moral shifts. In fact, the owners of video centers make an active decision to not screen new Bollywood films.
The rise of Kannywood in Nigeria, courtesy Bollywood
It was in the 1950s that Nigeria‘s love affair with Bollywood began. Considered to be a cheaper alternative to the latest Hollywood hits, some Lebanese merchants decided to import Hindi films to Nigeria. Soon attending Bollywood film screenings in open courtyards became commonplace in Nigerian culture. Interestingly, the films that were screened were neither dubbed nor subtitled in the native language. Mainly because the Nigerian communities saw themselves in the stories portrayed in Hindi cinema, Bollywood was able to cut through the language barrier in Africa.
Be it pulp fiction or devotional songs, Bollywood left an indelible mark on Hausa culture – it acted as a catalyst in the creation of Kannywood, the north Nigerian movie hub based out of Kano. The Kannywood studios at times replicate Bollywood movies shot by shot, and at other times, they make music videos that are deeply influenced by India. In 2013, an album inspired by the trend hit the streets of Nigeria titled Harafinso: Bollywood Inspired Film Music from Hausa Nigeria.
Even the women of Nigeria have found inspiration in Bollywood, and this led to the emergence of soyayya – or – love literature in the 80s. The Hausa women, who were deeply inspired by the innocent romance in Hindi films, started writing soyayya novels in an attempt to modernize their conservative communities.
Over the years, Bollywood’s grip on Nigeria has been strong as ever, and now Nollywood (Nigerian film industry) is collaborating with Bollywood to produce films together. The 2020 Netflix film Namaste Wahala, based on a romantic relationship between an Indian boy and a Nigerian girl, is the perfect example of this collaboration.
Bollywood’s quick lessons to Kenya in pop culture
If Bollywood set a sense of inspiration for Nigerians, in Kenya, Hindi films shaped music genres, landscapes, fashion and offered dreams during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. With a huge population of Asians residing in Kenya from the 60s to the 90s, Bollywood became an integral part of the culture. Globe Cinema in Nairobi was the one-stop destination for Bollywood film buffs, and the movies it showcased opened doors to Indian culture among East Africa’s Asian community. The film turned out to be a quick lesson in fashion and customs and traditions.
From Rajesh Khanna to Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood stars have left an imprint on the people of Kenya. In 2019, actor Anupam Kher shared a video of a Kenyan couple lipsyncing to Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.
Presenting #Sharukh and #Kajol from Kenya lip-synching the eternal love song from the eternal #dilwaledulhanialejayenge. Video shared by the man who composed the song, @pandit_lalit. Enjoy.🤓🙏😎😍 #MusicIsUniversal pic.twitter.com/5gwga3kARv
— Anupam Kher (@AnupamPKher) September 12, 2019
The same year, the first-ever Indian Films Festival was held in Kenya.
Like music, films, too, transcend boundaries. And especially if they are Bollywood films. If you are an Indian traveler, it’s unlikely that you have not met people who recognized your identity because of Bollywood stars. That’s the power of Hindi cinema. In the last 60 years, Africans have been devouring Bollywood films, so much so, that it has become a part of their culture. Indian films have left an indelible mark on Africa, and this love affair is continuing to grow for both nations. But the challenge is that many African countries still prefer yesteryears’ films. The challenge is to make present-day Indian cinema more palatable to a global audience.