Fiji Indians: For whom Bollywood acts as cultural bridge

Fiji Indians: For whom Bollywood acts as cultural bridge
Bollywood actress Jaya Bachchan, left, along with daughter in law Aishwarya Rai leaves after paying last respects to Indian actress Sridevi in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Thousands of grieving fans gathered in Mumbai to pay respects to Sridevi, the iconic Bollywood actress who drowned accidentally in a Dubai hotel bathtub over the weekend. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Savusavu (Fiji):  “Laakhon hain yahan dilwale…”. That evergreen Mahendra Kapoor number from the 1960s played on at a boutique island resort here — bringing smiles to a group of Indian tourists.

But more than that, it testified to how Bollywood connects the over 40 per cent Indians in this archipelagic state to their roots, underlining their lives in what is deemed to be one of the world’s happiest nations.

Rajnesh Prasad, 40, is clueless about which part of India his family came from. He hasn’t visited his ancestral country yet, but knows in his heart that he will, one day. A driver, he speaks Hindi, is a fan of megastar Amitabh Bachchan, and loves watching Bollywood superstar Salman Khan’s movies.

“It is very expensive to travel to India, but films are like a bridge… They reduce the gap for us. I saw ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’. Mast thhi (It was fun). Salman is a good actor,” Prasad, preferring to be called “Raj” a la Shah Rukh Khan’s character in “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”, told IANS here.

“I have also seen ‘Raid’,” he added as he wished upon getting himself photographed with the film’s lead actress Ileana D’Cruz, who was here to shoot a campaign as ambassador of Tourism Fiji last week.

For Ileana, who has visited the Pacific nation earlier too, it was heartening to come face-to-face with the fandom for Bollywood.

“It’s fascinating. The first time I came here, it was a very private visit and each evening, I would be surprised when during a ‘kahwa’ ceremony, everyone would get together and sing songs. One day people started singing a Bollywood number, one of Rishi Kapoor’s old songs, and I found it unbelievable… They were singing Bollywood songs, and bonding over ‘Sholay’,” she told IANS.

“So, they told me, considering there’s a massive Indian population here as well, they do love Bollywood and its songs. I met a Fijian lady at a restaurant, and she said her grandson tells her ‘Please watch Bollywood films, please put Bollywood songs’… So, it is a great mix of culture here,” Ileana said.

“You get the authentic Fijian culture, but at the same time, Indians will also feel a lot at home because there’s that little element of Indianness in it,” she added.

The Indian-origin population here is mostly descendants of indentured labourers brought to the islands by Fiji’s British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on the sugarcane plantations.

Kamal Dev, 56, lives here with his wife and three children. He is a huge fan of Mithun Chakraborty and Amitabh Bachchan. There’s also 22-year-old Krishna Prasad, who says South Indian films are a binding factor in his house. He loved the “Baahubali” franchise.

In all, there are 10 theatres across Fiji, including those in the capital city Suva and the country’s transportation hub, Nadi. All the theatres play the latest Bollywood movies.

One theatre in Nadi flaunts a poster of Salman’s forthcoming Eid release “Race 3”, and colourful CD covers of Hindi films are seen adding colour to the glass window of VCD shops.

Anasyu Chand, Assistant Head Teacher at Rampur Primary School, Navua District here, says Indians here are hooked to Hindi television shows as well.

“‘Kumkum Bhagya’, ‘Mere Sai’, ‘Vighnaharta Ganesha’, ‘Kundali Bhagya’…we watch it all,” said Chand, who said teaching spoken Hindi to all students — Indian-origin or Fijian — was compulsory at their school till fourth grade.”

She said Ramayan was recited at the school every Tuesday. “We celebrate all festivals — whether Eid, Easter, Diwali, Ram Navmi or Janmashtami in a big way like they do in films. It is very important for us that our new generation knows about India and all things Indian,” said Chand, who draped a sari especially to meet Ileana, adding: “I feel the emotional touch… Jab hamaare desh ka koi aata hai (when someone from our homeland comes).”