To Raj Kapoor, with love from Kazakhstan!

Almaty, Oct 21 (IANS) Having spent her childhood and most of her youth watching Raj Kapoor movies, Aiman Kushkambayev, a movie buff in this former capital of Kazakhstan, cannot get over "the nation's enormous love" for the Indian film legend.

Indian films and actors continue to be big hits in this former Soviet republic, a land of rich art and culture, which has its own well acclaimed traditional cinema - but currently "not in great shape", say experts.

Though, modern Indian cinema has not penetrated too deep here due to "distribution problems", Kazakhs love watching Indian classics even decades after release. The love transcends Raj Kapoor's death and the dismemberment of the former Soviet Union.

"I was brought up watching Raj Kapoor films," Kushkambayev, 58, who still remembers her "childhood love" for the showman of Indian cinema, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

"His movies have always attracted special attention not only in Kazakhstan but across all Soviet republics. Most of my friends, like me, in our youth were in love with this handsome Indian hero," she said, claiming she has not missed any of Raj Kapoor's movies.

"He was a filmmaker always ahead of his time and his films became standard not just for Indian cinema but for much of Russian celluloid as well."

Kushkambayev doesn't remember dialogues or songs of any of Raj Kapoor movies but she can explain the themes to you and can hum the tunes from Raj Kapoor film songs as well.

"Kapoor's roles patterned on Charlie Chaplin's lovable but sad tramp in classics like 'Awara' and 'Shree 420' portrayed a universal man, full of dreams and fallibility. His films were full of political themes having socialist leanings," remembered Kushkambayev, as she hummed the tune of "Mera Joota hai Japani; Yeh Patloon Englistani" from "Shree 420".

Raj Kapoor's films became popular in the former USSR in the 1950s and he was feted as a celebrity there.

Kushkambayev says all over former Soviet republics including Kazakhstan, "we had three Indian heroes: Raj Kapoor, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru".

Other Indian film actors don't lag far behind. If Raj Kapoor's name lights up Kazakh faces, they start hip-hopping when you remind them of Mithun Chakraborty, the 1980s disco dancer.

"Mithun is also a great favourite here," said a salesgirl at a CD shop. In fact, Indian cinema finds a special corner in many CD shops in this southern city, called the cultural capital of the country.

You will find separate shelves for "Indian melodramas" - as they are catalogued - with "Mera Naam Joker", "Shree 420", "Disco Dancer", "Mother India", "Sholay" "Abhiman", "Munnabhai MBBS" and "Devdas", to name a few.

Many film clubs here have a special screening of Indian movies at least once a month, according to the salesgirl, who goes by just the name Yulia. A special channel in Kazakhstan is dedicated to Indian films, music and other entertainment programmes.

Though Kazakhstan has its own rich cinema, filmmaking is not considered profitable in the country of only 16 million, where theatres hesitate to show indigenous movies and prefer Hollywood blockbusters.

"Dozens of films are being made here every year. But the problem lies in distribution," said Fotima Gulnar, a journalist.

"We don't get to see new Indian films either, because of the same problem," she said.

But with the country's growing wealth, many are hopeful about the future of Kazakh cinema.

"We have plenty of money and the government promoting the country's image is willing to develop cinema," Gulnar said.

The biggest government-controlled production house KazakhFilm is planning to build new studios and cinema complexes across the country to promote the country's cinema.

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