A lot of us Asians born in East Africa in the fifties, sixties, and seventies were shaped, rightly or wrongly, by Bollywood of India; our paradigms and lives were molded by the images on the large silver screens where actors impacted, to a large extent, our lifestyles and sadly, our family values as well. It was an affordable and relatable entertainment since our ancestors had migrated from India. So, we could relate to what we saw on the silver screen because we shared a base language, foods, dressing attire, and ways, the Hindu marriage customs and rituals, and inbred prejudices, racial and social. Our marriages, even today, are a classic example of many rites copied from Bollywood. A wannabe bride (or mother) must make a trip to Mumbai or Karachi to shop for the latest in fashion from the silver screens of either Bollywood or Lollywood (Pakistani equivalent). As important as a trip for Hajj? Or ziyaara? Almost?
We avidly pursued the actors in their careers and personal lives. Our emotional bond with the actors was so intense that some of us took rather draconian measures to express these feelings. I remember when the movie Bobby was released. It was a massive hit and even the Khoja ‘mullahs’ at the Imambargah imitated Rishi Kapoor’s bell-bottoms and hummed ‘ham tum ek kamre me banth ho…’ for quite some time. A very close cousin of mine was so in love with the actor, she used to decorate his name in her autograph booklet with blood harvested from a finger pin-prick.
There was a constant tug of war in my family regarding Bollywood and the masala that came with it. The elders publicly reprimanded us for the attention we paid to the larger than life silver screen and for the Hindi songs we listened to or sang along with. Covertly, they too would sometimes show up at the Cameo or Avalone in Dar es Salaam for a Sunday matinee. I remember families making an outing of it on Wednesdays at the Drive-In Cinema in Dar. The movie ticket was priced at twenty Tanzanian shillings (about US$.009 today) whether there was one person or twenty in the vehicle. So, the Waania in us would drive up with a Canter truck full of excited and giggling, boisterous extended families, accompanied by all the Gujarati saltines and dokras and chatnis imaginable, washed down by hot chai from many colorful thermoses. You’d think we were in Mumbai instead of Dar es Salaam, some 10,000 miles away as the crow flies. The movies and songs would pause for the 2 months and 8 days of Muharram and Safar in memory of Imam Hussien (a) and the events in Karbala of course, only to unleash with a vengeance at the end of the mourning period. Why, some of our lamentations for the tragedy of Karbala, were penned in the tunes of popular Bollywood songs,
The Bollywood movies of my days were palatable because they portrayed a simple innocence and honesty of humanity in the plots and storyline. The movies could be watched as a family without cringing due to lewdness and or violence of today. They were movies we could relate to and always a moral story that we learned from. The songs too, were memorable and melodious, pure magic to the ears. They made up an irresistible emotional pull for those falling in or already in love. Many were tear-jerking bakwaas, no less. Like those that starred Manoj Kumar, who I bet spent half his lifetime bawling out in front of the cameras. But there were many more that uplifted the spirits for the moment, hours or the day. There were side effects from the screen fashions we copied, obviously, gossip material, of the women’s beehive hairstyles and gaudy sarees with increasingly bare midriffs that got many a tongue wagging.
Talking of Bollywood, Jagdeep, nee Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed Jaffrey, passed away in Mumbai recently at age 78. He was a legendary comedian, of course, and I had an opportunity to briefly meet him at the Bandra Khoja mosque in Mumbai mosque way back in 1996. He was attending Jooma prayers accompanied by his actor son Javed Jaffrey. Although Jagdeep, his screen name, was unimpressive in person, his persona as a comedian was celebrated and renowned. His role as Soorma Bhopaali in the hit movie Sholay can still make a diehard austere human laugh so hard, resulting in a belly ache. It was startling to see his bier being carried through the Araambagh of Mumbai by his two kids.
Take Cover, The Bachchans Have The Doodoos
Ahhh, my muscles are pleasantly sore after a rigorous weight lifting session and a 6-mile run at the almost empty Planet Fitness gym in Lake Mary immediately after zohr. Of the 50 odd treadmills, only three are occupied, and with every other unit made redundant for social distancing, it’s a worry-free and pleasure running. It’s late Saturday, a time I look forward to, the last day of the week I have to put up with sore muscles; I can rest tomorrow. I have no pushups, no sit-ups, no weight training, no running, no planks, no skipping rope, or steps to climb on Sundays.
So, I’m at my Mac, busy putting the first chapter of my next novel, my fourth, together, when my cellphone farts a WA message. Now, remember, these novels benefit CAI’s 660 odd worldwide orphans, 100%; I make not a penny profit out of it. So, please do purchase a copy when it prints later part of 2021, if we all survive the accursed Doodoo Corona, that is. You’ll be educating a hapless orphan, the ultimate reward you can gift a poor orphan child. The WA message is from a cousin of mine in Toronto, Canada informing me that Amitabh Bachchan, the aging global idolized 77-year old Bollywood actor, has tested positive for the Corona Doodoo. It is accompanied by a teary-eyed emoji.
I naturally regret every victim of this Doodoo but am dismissive about the sentiment behind the message. There are millions of others who this Doodoo is ravaging in India and worldwide, so Amitabh is just another statistic. For me. I have nothing against Amitabh Bachchan, more (ethical) power to him. He is a good actor most times and has made a name and nauseating amount of money at promoting unethical and unconscionable products. He can use a minute portion of this wealth to buy the cures and comfort to fight the Doodoo; my concern and prayers are reserved for the downtrodden daily wage earners in the cholis and slums in his city and country who waste away and succumb to death a horrible way. Although the city hospitals in Mumbai are teeming with COVID-19 victims and the poor are turned away, some dying in the parking lots of hospitals even, Sri Amitabh is whisked up to a luxury room with less than mild symptoms. And then to put out a supposed morale-boosting video message telling the poor dying that he is in this together with them? Really?
But it does not end with the Toronto cousin; other next of kin and acquaintances chime in with similar sentiments and Facebook comes alive with the news. Aree baab re! Then there is a breaking news flash from several news channels I subscribe to, including CNN, telling the world that Amitabh Bachchan is Doodoo ailing. Not only him but his son, subpar actor Abhishek, as well. All hell is breaking loose, quyaamat is nigh, take cover, the Bachchans have the Doodoos. Hmph.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan must have felt left out of the limelight, for the Doodoo visits her and her young daughter as well. Now Facebook and the news channels have it a go in earnest. I have read at least three conspiracy theories on social media about the Bachchan sage; one, from India, classic and predictable. That the Doodoo was planted into the Bachchan household by Pakistani agents who want to destroy Bollywood and ruin its worldwide success once and for all. How and why the Doodoo inflicting the Bachchan household would affect Bollywood was not apparent. To me.
This is our dunya…