A Friendship Forged Through Cinema: The Story Of Egypt's Tryst With Bollywood

A Friendship Forged Through Cinema: The Story Of Egypt's Tryst With Bollywood

Egypt and India have been forging new diplomatic relations recently, which will further forge the friendship between the two countries. However, their cultural ties run deeper and have a rich history. A friend of mine, on his first visit to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, was pleasantly surprised by the first greeting he received upon arrival. An Egyptian gentleman told him “Welcome to Egypt, your second country.” A friend also recently told me about the warm affability that Egyptians have for Indian tourists. They smile from ear to ear once they realize you are from India. The main reason behind that — you guessed it, Bollywood.

Egyptians have had a massive craze for Bollywood for decades. From rushing to watch Dilip Kumar’s Aan (1952) on grainy VHS tapes to watching the much more recent Akshay Kumar’s Singh is Kinng (2008), Bollywood and Egypt go a long way back. Egyptians are particularly ardent fans of the Shahenshah of Bollywood, our revered hero Big B, better known as Amitabh Bacchan. His famous movies The Great Gambler (1979), Geraftaar, and Mard (1985) were shot in Egypt. His popularity is not just in the main cities of Cairo or Luxor but also in small towns such as Al Qasr and Siwa.

"If any Indian is spotted on the streets, the first welcoming words people often utter are “Hello, Amitabh Bacchan”

Mohd Ahmad Abdel Rahman, Professor At Al-Azhar University, Cairo, in an interview with Times of India

Egypt also has its fair share of King Khan, a.k.a. Shahrukh Khan fans, who all lined up in Cairo to watch his film, My Name Is Khan (2010). The stunning visual landscapes of Egypt and its popular tourist sites such as the Great Sphinx, the Pyramids of Giza, Bahriya, and Deir El Bahri have made some iconic Bollywood film settings. Even Indian television serials are very popular in Egypt. There is a mad fan following for Indian television stars like Barun Sobti.

It is not just the residents of the beautiful country but also Egyptian presidents who love Hindi films. Egypt’s (then) President Gamal Abdel Nasser attended the 7th Filmfare Awards in Bombay in 1960. Both countries shared colonial history and hence a common anti-colonial objective united them. A close friendship between Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru lead to the two countries signing a Friendship Treaty in 1955.

A 1957 article in an Egyptian magazine called Al Kawakib (The Star) wrote:

“The secret to the success of Indian films in Egypt is that they portray the common life of both the Indian and the Egyptians. The music in these films moves us and lifts our spirits because it springs from the same source: the magic of the East and its spirituality.”

The Egyptian film industry was booming at that point in time and the period from the 1940s to the 1960s is referred to as the Golden age of Egyptian cinema. The love was mutual as Trade Guide, a Hindi film business magazine, wrote in 1963 about the technical superiority and high standards of Egyptian films.

Geographical distance is no barrier when it comes to the cultural confluence of Egypt and India. We hope for this friendship forged through films to continue for the years to come. Here is a music video from the popular Bollywood film, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) which we picked, featuring some of the most exciting tourist attractions of Egypt.

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