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Cairo’s main souk in the crowded Islamic district, shop owners seek out Indian Tourists with friendly hails of Amitabh Bachchan

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A pyramid in Egypt, VOA

– by Tarun Basu

April 19, 2017: At Khan el Khalili, Cairo’s main souk in the crowded Islamic district, shopowners seek out Indian tourists with friendly hails of Amitabh Bachchan! Shah Rukh Khan! Welcome!! These two actors are by far the most popular Indians in Egypt, a testament to the enormous soft power of Bollywood.

When Bachchan came to Cairo in April 2015 for the Indian Culture Festival, he was mobbed like a rockstar wherever he went. And when he met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, he reportedly remarked in jest that he was so overwhelmed by his fan following in the country he might even think of contesting a presidential election — and perhaps win it!

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With so much goodwill in Egypt for Indians one often wonders why the two countries are not closer partners and why friendship with Egypt is not talked about in India in the same vein as other countries with which New Delhi shares close political, economic and cultural ties.

With the ascent in both countries of two strong leaders, Narendra Modi and Sisi, came a change in the strategic calculus through a series of quick meetings between them — in New York and New Delhi.

The New York meeting, where something evidently clicked between Modi and Sisi, acknowledged historical bonds, found common ground in counter-terrorism cooperation and investment opportunities, and set the ground for future meetings. It was quickly followed by a visit by Sisi to New Delhi for the India Africa Forum Summit and then, within a year, with a state visit where the two leaders talked of working towards robust security cooperation following a major convergence of views on regional and global issues.

India and Egypt shared strong chemistry in the 1950s and 1960s, with close personal and political ties between their independence leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser, founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. But after their deaths, ties slumped with President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 40 years, not having the same comfort level with the Indian leadership. Although Mubarak did make a visit to New Delhi in his later years, the turning point in perceptions in many ways came during the short-lived rule of the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood and the visit to New Delhi in May 2013 by President Mohammed Morsi.

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Although Morsi was ousted — and arrested — within a month of his return to Cairo, and the visit was criticised by many as ill-timed with New Delhi seen as being a little out of touch with the region’s political realities, the growing importance of India for Egypt was beginning to be realised by its policymakers.

With the Middle East in upheaval and relations with the US looking uncertain, Cairo, that was used to putting all its strategic and economic eggs in the Western and Arab baskets, is looking, like other regional powers, at Asia and, more particularly, China and India. While China is a source of expanding investment in the region, India’s salience as a major economic and geopolitical power has increased in Egyptian eyes after the recent high-level visits and close strategic ties forged by New Delhi with key powers like the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

India has been holding a major multi-city cultural exposition in Egypt, called imaginatively ‘India by the Nile’, bringing in musicians, dancers, artists, street performers, not to mention Bollywood stars, that enhanced significantly the image of India in the Egyptian consciousness.

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Indian companies have found Egypt a good destination for business. Over 50 Indian companies are present in Egypt with an investment of $3 billion, providing employment to about 35,000 Egyptians. And Egypt’s recent discovery of gas, its upward looking economy following a currency float and growing foreign investment have added impetus to growing ties.

Companies like Kirloskar with their water pumps and Dabur and Monginis with their personal care and confectionery products are household names in Egypt, and many firms recognise the Suez Canal area as a potential hub of future expansion because of the country’s economic arrangements in the Arab world, Africa and the European Union. Even though there are only three Egyptian companies in India, bilateral trade has grown 60 percent over the last five years to touch almost $5 billion.

The current thinking in New Delhi is that if Cairo plays its cards right, a stronger Egypt could play a more moderating role and help in restoring regional stability and security. India is therefore investing a lot more in Egypt not only to shore up its profile but also to use the goodwill it builds up in projecting a larger role for itself in North Africa and the Arab world.

With a political foundation of friendship from the sixties India has the ability to tap into popular sentiment and cultural affinity, an advantage that few countries enjoy in Egypt, remarks Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador in Cairo.

And the ‘India by the Nile’ show is by far the largest such exposition in Egypt by any country here in recent times.

Despite recent terror attacks, India is demonstrating a major vote of confidence in the Egyptian government’s ability to deal with Islamist extremism by not cancelling music and dance shows as part of the festival in Alexandria, one of the two cities where minority Coptic Christian churches were targets last week.

The future of bilateral ties look promising and there is much expectation in Prime Minister Modi, who has shown personal interest in shoring up ties, making a visit there later this year. (IANS)

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Bollywood Megastar Amitabh Bachchan Completes Five Decades in B-town

Big B's tryst with honing his craft continues, with the eagerness of a newcomer -- as is visible in every new film. Perhaps that is the secret of his excellence and survival

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Amitabh Bachchan. Wikimedia Commons

BY SUGANDHA RAWAL

Amitabh Bachchan’s journey of five decades to become the Bollywood “Shahenshah” was not always a smooth ride. Indeed, his life is nothing short of brilliant biopic material. Early rejections were followed by a phase when he made his mark as a promising actor, which was soon overshadowed by the kind of superstardom Bollywood never saw before or after. When the superstar tried his hand at film entrepreneurship, he went bankrupt, only to bounce back and claim supremacy as a super brand and respectability as an icon.

The first reaction of the industry all those years ago, however, was far from welcoming. His tall and lanky frame, and the baritone of his voice, were deemed unsuitable for Bollywood’s image of a perfect hero back then. These factors were pointed out as flaws, and reasons why he wouldn’t be able to make it big in the industry.

Today, he is the face of Indian cinema all over the world, and for decades he has been drawing his USP from those very attributes that were considered drawbacks back then.

“Saat Hindustani”, released on November 7 1969, marks the start of his salad phase. The son of celebrated poet Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan started his journey as one of seven protagonists in the film, which didn’t exactly mark a blockbuster debut.

The first time he was seriously noticed was when he essayed a supporting role in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Rajesh Khanna-starrer “Anand” (1971). Despite the presence of Khanna, the reigning superstar of the times, Bachchan grabbed attention in the role of Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee.

Despite getting noticed in “Anand”, Bachchan had to see a phase of brief struggle, despite a long list of releases such as a “Parwana”, “Reshma Aur Shera”, “Sanjog”, “Bombay To Goa”, “Ek Nazar”, “Bansi Birju”, “Raaste Kaa Patthar” and “Bandhe Haath”.

Megastar Amitabh Bachchan at the 23rd Star Screen Awards 2016. Twitter

If his career is to be divided in phases, those early films, which also included “Chupke Chupke” and “Abhimaan”, could be termed as the Hrishikesh Mukherjee era. By the time Bachchan was co-starring with Rajesh Khanna in Mukherjee’s 1973 release “Namak Haraam”, people had already started talking of the tall, dark and brooding actor as the man who would be Bollywood’s next king.

It happened the same year, with Prakash Mehra’s “Zanjeer”. Rooted deep in angst and emotions attached to middle-class India, and delving into complex aspects of human lives, Bollywood’s “Angry Young Man” was born in Prakash Mehra’s 1973 hit, “Zanjeer”.

The film, riding the powerful writing by Salim Khan and Javed Akthar, went on to usher the era of violence and intense drama in Bollywood cinema. As Bachchan began rewriting cinematic trends for the Hindi film industry, Rajesh Khanna’s romantic era became history. The Salim-Javed phase of Amitabh Bachchan’s career began.

The Salim-Javed scripts that would go on to define Bachchan’s Angry Young Man image were “Deewar”, “Sholay”, “Trishul”, “Don”, “Kaala Patthar”, “Dostana”, Shaan” and “Shakti”. These films mark the zenith of the actor’s superstardom, cementing his permanent position in the industry.

Salim-Javed’s intense image for Bachchan was best interpreted by Prakash Mehra (“Zanjeer”), Yash Chopra (“Deewar”, “Trishul”, “Kaala Patthar”), and Ramesh Sippy (“Sholay”, “Shakti”).

Bachchan also proved to a peerless comic hero and entertainer in the Manmohan Desai films of the era, notably in “Parvarish”, “Suhaag”, “Amar Akbar Anthony”, “Naseeb” and “Desh Premee”.

"The idea is to reshuffle the side and come with a much stronger and dynamic team,"
Amitabh Bachchan. Wikimedia Commons

“Besharam”, “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar”, “Mr. Natwarlal”, “Silsila”, “Satte Pe Satta” and “Namak Halaal” were a few other films that highlight his career as Bollywood’s biggest commercial phenomenon in the seventies and the eighties.

As he was busy making his mark, he was struck with the accident on the “Coolie” set, but that didn’t deter him to lose focus from his goal. The film went on to be a big hit when it released in 1983.

By the time he won his first National Award for “Agneepath” (1990), Big B’s popularity was sky-high.

The slowdown started sometime in the mid-nineties, after he launched his company, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL). Big B, as he was being hailed by fans the media alike by now, somehow could not take to the world of business with the same effortless brilliance as acting. The failure of his entrepreneurial dreams also affected his box-office performances. Films such as “Mrityudaata”, “Sooryavansham”, “Major Saab”, “Lal Baadshah”, and “Kohram” crashed in succession in the mid to late nineties. In David Dhawan’s much hyped 1998 Diwali release “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan”, fans felt he was overshadowed by Govinda.

Big B needed reinvention, and there started a new phase in his career.

It happened on the small screen, as he took to hosting the quiz show “Kaun Banega Crorepati” in 2000. Entering the living rooms of fans every weekday with a fresh set of questions for contestants, Amitabh Bachchan became a knowledge guru of sorts — perfectly in sync with his advancing age. The Angry Young Man of yore metamorphosed into the Wise Seasoned Celebrity, and new-age Indian television’s biggest phenomenon was born.

Much of what he has done over the past two decades resonates the icon that the KBC phase of Bachchan’s superstardom is defined by. The quiz show, after all, helped him find a solid comeback as a big screen phenomenon, defying age and stereotypes.

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Creditable projects of this phase include “Mohabbatein”, “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…”, “Aankhen”, “Kaante”, “Baghban”, “Khakee”, “Black”, “Bunty Aur Babli”, “Bhoothnath”, “Paa”, “Bol Bachchan”, “Piku”, “Wazir”, “Te3n”, “Pink”, “102 Not Out” and “Badla”.

He would win three more National Awards during this phase — for “Black” (2005), “Paa” (2009) and “Piku” (2015). This year he has been declared recipient of Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to Indian cinema.

Despite being 77, he continues to be one of Bollywood’s busiest actors. His upcoming line-up includes “Chehre”, “Gulabo Sitabo”, “Brahmastra”, “Jhund” and “Aankhen 2”.

Big B’s tryst with honing his craft continues, with the eagerness of a newcomer — as is visible in every new film. Perhaps that is the secret of his excellence and survival. (IANS)