Trouble for Indian cinema’s woke actors; How Nehru made Uzbeks addicted to Bollywood
Strange it seems that allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against Bollywood’s Anurag Kashyap have come up at this juncture. Why now? Is it something or everything to do with his anti-CAA stand and his blatant criticism of the Right-Wing characters. If you recall, last winter he had even visited Jamia Millia campus and had also met the anti-CAA protestors at Shaheen Bagh. In fact, he is one of those who doesn’t mince words and has been very vocal about the policies of this government.
The way the hounding and arrest of the “rebels” is on, it seems many more could be targeted. Even the silent sympathizers could face tough times. You must have noticed that from the last couple of days, ever since her name came up with the allegation of drugs intake, the photographs of Deepika Padukone that are getting played up on the small screen are the ones that were clicked when she had visited the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus…she was there last winter, just days after several students of that university were targeted and assaulted by Right-Wing goons. She hadn’t come up with a speech nor with a statement but her mere visiting the campus and standing in the midst of the students relayed solidarity and much more along the strain.
Don’t know what would remain of Bollywood, with politics more than intruding, spreading its fangs. It is getting obvious that the Right-Wing lobbies are trying to come centre-stage. Till date Bollywood was supposedly one of those spheres that had managed to keep the hawks somewhat away from its terrain. But now ground realities don’t look too good. Will the aftermath of the Agenda unfolding right in the midst of Bollywood, get too divisive and frightful for us to see! What will be in store for the movers and shakers of Bollywood!
In fact, the first time I realized the huge impact of Bollywood’s movers and shakers, not just in our country but far beyond, was years back in 1995, when I’d interviewed Surat Mirkasymov --- he was Uzbekistan’s very first ambassador to India.
I was taken aback not just by the fluent Hindustani that Surat Mirkasymov spoke but also by his knowledge of Bollywood films and those film stars. Before I got down to interviewing him about his country and the diplomatic ties between his country and India (that was to be the thrust of this interview) I had to settle those ‘whys’ hitting my head. I had to ask him the ‘why’ to his fluent Hindustani, his love for Bollywood film and film-stars…
With that the Uzbek ambassador offloaded a tale; on which a full-fledged feature film could be made. Let me start off by writing those details to what he kept offloading, in between eating dried apricots – “These apricots are from our Farghana Valley … My love for Hindustani language. Why? Learnt it, mastered it because of my love for your country’s cinema…Actually whilst I was still in school (Tashkent’s famous school No. 24 ,which was later named after Lal Bahadur Shastri), the city had some special visitors. This was around 1954, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had sent a delegation of film stars — Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and several others, to the first Film Festival of India in Tashkent. And several movies were screened — Awaara, Biju Bawra, Do Beegha Zameen …you can’t imagine how I felt when I saw these stars and their films. I can’t describe what I felt. Yes, something happened to me!”
With that take-off, Surat Mirkasymov used his Taurean determination to master the languages — Hindi and Urdu, so that he could grasp details to our films and the filmi world. “Yes, I was absolutely determined to master these two languages, Urdu and Hindi. And so just after my schooling, I enrolled at the newly opened Oriental Faculty of the Tashkent University. But then there was a major hitch. There was no teacher to be found in the whole of Tashkent who could teach us students, Urdu and Hindi …Finally, one day we were told that there was an Indian prisoner lodged at Tashkent’s Central Jail who could teach us! And he was academic-scholar Madan Mohan Hardat and an expert on these languages. After he was freed from jail he became our guru and its only because of him that I could master these two languages.”
He had also gone to explain why Madan Mohan Hardat was lodged in Tashkent Jail: “There is this sad and strange story about how he was languishing in our jail …He was a well-known scholar from the Benaras Hindu University and during the freedom struggle he wanted to come to the USSR to learn more on how to go about the freedom movement but whilst he was crossing the Afghanistan-USSR border he was caught and mistaken for a spy and with that dumped in the Tashkent Jail. Of course, latter he was freed and taught us …He returned to India in 1961 but died unsung in 1985.”
Getting back to his love for Indian cinema, Surat Mirkasymov told me that after passing out from the university he worked for Radio Tashkent for five years, from 1962 to 1967, for the Hindi-Urdu service. Then he worked as a translator. And then headed the Uzbek Society for Cultural Relations with foreign countries. This followed his first diplomatic posting to India, serving as Secretary in the Soviet Embassy here in New Delhi and then later in 1971 he became USSR’s Consul General in Calcutta. After the Soviet Union broke up and Uzbekistan became an independent country, he was back in India. This time as his country’s very first envoy to India.
I had also asked him: Did he get to meet any of the stars he’d been attracted to? “It was a big list / bahut bari list hai …there’s Rekha, Waheeda …and today my favourite film is 1942: A Love Story… Manisha Koirala seems a nice girl…”
Did he see our films regularly? “On the small screen …today, though even our film industry is very big but till date your country’s films are very popular in our country. Your country’s films are really loved by our people… because of this love for your films, our people really respect Indians; so much so that if they spot a lady wearing a sari they will invite her home for tea!”
And this Indologist was planning to use his mastery over Urdu and Hindi to translate Mughal Emperor Babar’s poems and memoirs into Hindustani.
To quote him, “Babar was one of the greatest poets of our land and his poems and Babarnama should be read by more and more people, for then they’d realize his genuine feelings for this land and for Indians. Babar was not a destroyer but a creator. If you read about his entire life, you’d realize he created, whether poetic verse or even when he created the Mughal empire here, he got/transported trees, flowers, plants, fruits, cuisine, architectural stuff all the way from Uzbekistan to India…It is unfortunate that he is known only as a conqueror though there are different aspects to his personality… Babar wrote in his Babarnama this message for his son Humayun: that cow-slaughter should never be allowed to take place in this land, for it will hurt the feelings of the Hindus.”