In Iran, Bollywood is still a huge draw

By Ritu Sharma

New Delhi, Dec 20 (IANS) Raj Kapoor used to be their favourite hero in the pre-Revolution days, but it's Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai who are the current heartthrobs as Bollywood continues to hold sway in Iran, say visiting students and teachers.

DVDs of latest Hindi movies are available readily in markets there and CD shops are adorned with posters of King Khan, as Shah Rukh is known, and Aishwarya Rai.

Even the state-run channels often broadcast Hindi flicks, after being passed by the censors of course. The love for Bollywood masala movies is just one of the many things Indians and Iranians share, say a group of students who were here to participate in a conference on India-Iran ties held at the Jamia Milia Islamia University.

"Hindi movies are quite popular among Iranians as we share common cultural values and the same emotional characteristics...I watch them every now and then," Hossein, a student from Tehran University, told IANS.

"I have enjoyed two Hindi movies particularly, I do not know the exact titles in Hindi but one was 'Family' and other was 'Sometimes Joy, Sometimes Sadness' ('Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham'). The first one truly impressed me. I have watched quite a number of Hindi comedies too but unfortunately I do not remember their names," he added.

Students apart, Hamid Ahmadi, a professor of Tehran University, also loves watching Hindi movies...though he admits to being a Rekha fan.

"I watch Hindi movies regularly. My favourites are 'Umrao Jaan', the story of a courtesan. But I liked Rekha more than Aishwarya," he said.

Rekha had portrayed the role of Umrao Jaan in the 1981 film. The movie was remade in 2006 with Aishwarya in the lead.

"Iranians weep over tragic scenes shown in Hindi movies, (are) thrilled with songs and enjoy the romance and the happy endings," Ahmadi added.

Ahmadi had presented a paper on India-Iran relations in the context of Iran's nuclear programme during the three-day seminar held her earlier this month.

The students and the professor were part of an Iranian delegation that also included former diplomats and academicians.

"Sholay", Ramesh Sippy's 1975 blockbuster, is another all-time favourite with the Iranians. So much so that in 2007, Iranians voted it as their favourite film in a poll conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's Research Centre.

Besides Aishwarya and Shah Rukh, the other Indian stars popular are Salman Khan and Bipasha Basu.

"Indian actresses are very good, especially Aishwarya and Bipasha Basu," said Mohammad Ali, a 23-year-old student.

Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran was one of the biggest markets for Hindi films. Now most of the Hindi movies are broadcast by the state-run television channel and are available through local video networks and are subscribed to censorship. And film buffs rue that the song and dance sequences, which Bollywood is famous for, are often cut by the censors.

"You can buy the dubbed CDs in every supermarket, though some scenes are cut due to moral policies and things like that," Hossein said.

"Lots of scenes are cut, songs are cut due to which the storyline sometimes jumps ahead but nevertheless the films are worth watching," he added.

But Iranian websites step in to offer Hindi film songs to its fans. One such website is 'Bulbul-e-Iran', which has a "comprehensive collection of Hindi movie songs", the student said.

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