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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Bollywood bowls Tajiks over
By BBC Central Asia correspondent Monica Whitlock, and Rahim Rahimian

film set
The village of Aychi is swarming with redcoats
The most expensive film ever produced in India, The Rising, is not just big news in Bollywood - it's brought excitement to a remote corner of Central Asia.

The final scenes from the epic Indian independence drama are being filmed in the tiny Tajik village of Aychi, near the Afghan border.

Director Ketan Mehta picked Aychi because it looks like Afghanistan in the 19th century - where The Rising, starring Bollywood legend Aamir Khan, begins.

Aamir Khan is a superstar even in the most remote Tajik villages - and when he and his entourage descended suddenly on Aychi, local people gathered from far and wide to catch a glimpse.

"I never thought I would see him! Let alone act in his film!" said one young Tajik from the village.

He was among the lucky picked as extras and horsemen - for this is horse country, set between the mountains and the dusty plains that run down to the Afghan border 50km (30 miles) away.

Trilogy

The film tells the story of Indian independence fighter Mangal Pandey, hanged by the British in 1857.

AAMIR KHAN
Aamir Khan
People here are so kind and friendly
So Aychi has been swarming with actors dressed up as Indian revolutionaries and British red-coats, sitting under umbrellas to escape the fierce Tajik sun and temperatures in the high 40s centigrade.

There's even a British camp pitched in the lee of the hills.

Costing $20m, says the Bollywood press, The Rising is a co-production between the Indian Kaleidoscope Company and the UK's Capitol Films.

It's the first part of a historical trilogy based around the independence movement.

Aamir Khan calls it a realistic film which tries to bring alive a true story: "It has a lot of resonance in today's world too," he told the BBC.

The Rising is shot in Hindi and English and is aimed at the international box office.

It's produced by Bobby Bedi who first brought Bollywood to cinemas around the world with his 1994 hit, Bandit Queen.

Cash chance

To the horsemen of Aychi, it's been a wonderful week.

Film set
Locals were taken on as extras and horsemen
The extras have picked up about $30 a day - more than most people can make in a month.

This harsh, poor region is often stricken by drought and there are few opportunities for work beyond the cotton plantations that line the road.

Some people make it to the capital, Dushanbe, an hour away, to find work as drivers or in the bazaars.

Others cross the border into Afghanistan to work as labourers on post-war building projects - but that doesn't pay anything like as well.

'So kind'

The Tajiks' enthusiasm, though, is about much more than money.

Tajiks love to host any guest - let alone a celebrity - and they have been thrilled to invite the stars and crew to their houses.

"People here are so kind and friendly," Aamir Khan says.

Bollywood films are so popular in Tajikistan that many people can sing the hits all the way through in Hindi - without understanding the words.

Bollywood poster in Dushanbe market
Bollywood posters on display in Dushanbe market
Most people - who can afford it - watch on pirated videos as there are few cinemas in Tajikistan.

"I love Indian films. They're so romantic," said one woman selling fruit in a bazaar in central Dushanbe.

"The old ones are best - with stars like Raj Kapoor," echoed a taxi driver.

The Rising is due for release later this year across the world - but sadly not in Aychi.


SEE ALSO:
Bollywood plans Afghan movie
28 Dec 01  |  Entertainment


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