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 Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
Not many Indians have heard of this little island, also known as East Timor, but Bollywood has influenced it greatly, so much so that Timorese (they 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 sweeping views of the surrounding bay.
It seems strange at first to hear latest Bollywood 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 the SRK’s hit movie from the 90s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
It was the same with other Timorese on the streets of Capital Dili.
Narrating how Bollywood entered this Catholic country, Garcia said it was in 1999 that Timorese first got a taste of Bollywood films.
“An Indian architect came here and promoted Indian movies. We had only one movie hall and he managed to show us Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. At that time, the population of Timor was 800,000 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.
Garcia said though Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or DDLJ – another King Khan blockbuster – was released everywhere before Kuch Kuch.., they saw it later. The two other Shah Rukh Khan movies to follow were Dil To Pagal Hai and Kabhi Khushie Khabi Gham.
“Shah Rukh Khan 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,” Garcia 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 and now that our communication system and internet services have improved we see all the latest songs on YouTube,” he added.
Now, he said, Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan are equally loved.
His friend and colleague Ronaldo Dorosario said though Shah Rukh Khan is his favourite, he also admires Hrithik Roshan.
Gaqualena Horta recalled how she went to Indonesia when the lead actors had come to promote Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
“I don’t remember much… but I remember going with my parents,” she said with happiness as she tried to score over her friends.
Abrao Gubterres, who teaches Tetum, the native language, to foreigners working mostly in various UN bodies, loves Bollywood songs and leaves no chance to sing them.
“I know all Shah Rukh Khan songs,” he said, as he starts 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 the entire country turn 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 to dream of a better future,” said Gubterres.