Our cab navigates Cairo streets, with its blustery whip and honking cars, barbed wires and army tanks with soldiers; it’s hard to get by the chaos. Soon enough, rising above the din of the traffic and the swish of the wipers cleaning the dust on the windshield, the cab stereo blares Jahan teri ye nazar hai, meri jaan mujhe khabar hai. “Amitabh Bachchan,” Ahmed, our cabbie, says with a toothy smile. On the boulevards around Tahrir Square, as a nation deals with unrestrained police atrocities, authoritarian rule, and the exile of politicians and activists, our taxi moves around happily with Hindi film songs finely tuned to Cairo’s pulse. “People love Bollywood in this country. Everyone looks forward to new releases. It’s beautiful to see this in the current atmosphere where the country has suffered a lot, economically and otherwise,” says Navneet Suri, India’s Ambassador to Egypt.
So it wasn’t a surprise when Suri and Teamwork Arts Director Sanjoy Roy decided to create a Bollywood experience for the people of Egypt in the largest-ever festival of India in Egypt that concluded earlier this week. The highlight of the 20-day festival, titled “India by the Nile” and spread over four cities, was a Bollywood night with a musical that was staged with all the fanfare of the big fat Indian wedding. It came across as a formula-driven film and the idea may not work in India, but in Cairo’s Royal Opera House and Hurghada’s Old Palace, a high-end resort by the Red Sea, for the audience — Egyptian women in kanjeevarams and head scarves — the sold-out show was a happy occasion.
The festival also hosted talks by actor Shabana Azmi and lyricist Javed Akhtar and Bollywood workshops apart from a kathak recital by Marami Medhi. There was also an exhibition of cartoons by cartoonist Sudhir Tailang and Indian food and spices on display. To promote the festival, there was a Bollywood-inspired flash mob at the Cairo airport.
Still a work in progress, Roy hopes the festival can be an annual event. However, this year’s “India by the Nile” offered some respite for a nation that has seen its worst political unrest in a decade.