Have you seen Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor’s poster at the back of a taxi? The lure of Bollywood is unstoppable even in the remotest parts of the world and the last place you expect to see this is in Timor-Leste, one of the world’s newest nations perched between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
Not many Indians may have heard of this little island nation, also known as East Timor, but Bollywood has influenced it greatly; so much so that Timorese (there are just 1.15 million of them) openly admit that superstar Shah Rukh Khan taught them how to “love”.
Ravaged by conflict and struggle for freedom, first from the Portuguese and then the Indonesian rule, the obvious love of this tiny island for anything Bollywood is evident on the streets, the stores, or even the most visited spot – Cristo Rei of Dili – a 88.6 foot high statue of Jesus Christ located on a hilltop high over the city with a sweeping view of the surrounding bay.
It seems strange at first to hear latest Hindi songs blaring out of the music systems with young Timorese boys and girls dancing to the tunes in jest.
“The road to our freedom (gained on May 20, 2002) was long and traumatic. We Timorese knew about love, but we had forgotten it in the midst of conflict. It was Bollywood and especially Shah Rukh Khan who taught us the real meaning of love,” Hugo Garcia, a young protocol officer with the ministry of foreign affairs, told this visiting correspondent.
As soon as he got to know that this correspondent was from India, he started singing Bollywood songs from SRK’s 1990s hit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which had also Kajol and Rani Mukherjee in lead roles.
It was the same with other Timorese on the streets of Capital Dili.
Narrating how Bollywood entered this Catholic country, Hugo said that it was in 1999 that the Timorese first got the taste of Hindi films.
“An Indian architect had come here and promoted the Hindi movies. We had only one movie hall and he managed to show us Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. At that time, the population of Timor would have been 80,0000 and believe me or not the entire population saw this movie. There was not a single person, who was not singing its famous songs.”
The movie was released in India in 1998 and has become a cult.
Hugo said that though Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or DDLJ – another Shah Rukh blockbuster – was released before Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but they saw it only later. The two other SRK movies to follow were Dil To Pagal Hai and Kabhi Khushi, Kabhie Gham.
“Shah Rukh ruled our hearts by that time. He was clearly the king of romance. After seeing these movies during our dark hours, we got to understand the meaning of love. The movies showed us how to respect a woman, about sacrifice and how to have courage,” he said.
After Indonesia allowed air travel and opened its borders to this country which they had left in ruins, the Timorese finally got a chance to see Bollywood movies more often.
“The open market helped us. We started getting CDs. With our communication system and the internet service improved now, we see all the latest songs on YouTube,” he added.
Now, he said that Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan are equally loved.
His friend and colleague Ronaldo Dorosario said that though the king Khan is his favourite, he also admires Hrithik.
Mr Dorosario instantly started singing the title song from the movie Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai, which was the launching pad of the actor and was a blockbuster.
Gaqualena Horta recalled how she went to Indonesia when the lead actors had come to promote their movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
“I don’t remember much. But I remember going with my parents,” she said with happiness.
Abrao Gubterres, who teaches Tetum, the native language, to foreigners working mostly in various UN bodies, loves Hindi songs and leaves no chance to sing them.
“I know all Shah Rukh Khan songs,” he said, as he started singing one after another in his baritone voice.
“He is god for many Timorese. We wish he could come and visit this nation. He will be surprised to see that the entire country has turned up to see him. After all, he taught us love and romance at a time when we needed it to guide us to keep us alive and sane and also to dream of a better future,” he said about SRK.