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Saturday, October 24, 1998 Published at 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK

World: South Asia

Bollywood stirs Uzbek passions

Indian films are known for their all singing all dancing formula

By Central Asia Correspondent Louise Hidalgo

A lot has been written about the inheritance of the Soviet years in Central Asia - but one of the little known legacies has been a great love of Indian films - particularly in the most populous state of Uzbekistan.

When Moscow ruled in Uzbekistan, Indian films were dubbed in Russian and shipped south in their thousands.

The films were cheap and offered on generous terms, and marked perhaps the warm relations between India and the Soviet Union.

As a result, whole generations of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kazakhs have been brought up knowing the great classic Indian actors like Raj Kapoor.

"I liked the films because they were very romantic and the nature was very beautiful," says Nazibra, a fan of Indian films now in her early thirties.

Huge video market

Seven years after the Soviet Union collapsed, the Uzbek passion for Indian films continues.

Within months of the release of the latest film in India, Shahrukh Khan, pirate copies were already on sale in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

[ image: Most Uzbeks love Indian films]
Most Uzbeks love Indian films
Mohammed Sharif Pat runs a shop selling Indian films near one of Tashkent's biggest markets. He is an Afghan who brings videos from the Pakistani frontier town Peshawar.

"There are many people who love Indian films here. I'd say at least 70% of the people in Tashkent buy them. We sell about 100 videos a day. I've just had to put in an order for a thousand more," he says.

"The Uzbeks are Central Asians, they are part of Asia. They have a common culture. That's why they like Indian films."

Cultural ties

The Uzbek town of Andijan was the birthplace of Babur, the first of the Mughal emperors to conquer Delhi more than 400 years ago.

He was the great-great-great grandson of the man the Uzbeks now regard as their national hero, the medieval conqueror Timur, or Tamerlane as he is known in the West.

"There are many things that our two peoples share from that time. They say the domes of the Taj Mahal had their inspiration in Central Asia. The first Uzbek theatre was a musical theatre which switched between action and song in the same way that many Indian films do now," says Saudarkh Hojaiwa, a leading film critic.

"There are lots of other traditions that we have in common, too. We both have the same respect for the older members of our society and for the role of the family. And just like many Indian films, we'd never show a couple kissing," she says.

Indians astonished

Despite the shared history, for many Indians living in Uzbekistan, the passion the Uzbeks have for their films and film stars has come as a bit of a surprise.

[ image: India makes more films than any other country]
India makes more films than any other country
"Wherever we go and meet local dignitaries - even ministers or cabinet ministers - during our conversation it is always mentioned," says Ashok Shamer from the Indian embassy in Tashkent.

"This shows that Indian films, culture, songs and especially Raj Kapoor have been household names here. Most of them can sing some Hindi songs, they may not know the meaning but their pronunciation is correct and they know the music," he says.

"I have found out that almost all my neighbours can sing and play Hindi songs. This was really a big surprise to me when I came to Uzbekistan."

Fading interest

With Uzbekistan's independence, Indian films have begun to lose some of their prominence.

A Uzbek television programme dedicated to the latest Indian film gossip and news has recently been cut from three episodes a week to just one.

Young people are turning away from the Indian classics, while the older generation complains about the violence and realism of some new Indian films.

But despite this, it is likely to be some time before the American imports slowly creeping into Uzbek cinema screens have the same place in most Uzbeks' affections as Indian films.

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