Recently, a friend in Istanbul was listening to a song that had Turkish lyrics but the music was very similar to the Hindi song ‘Awara Hoon’. I told her that it is ‘our’ (Indian) song. Dismayed, she said that Turkish people in general love this song and have been listening to it for decades. She insisted on the ‘Turkishness’ of the song. I responded to her in my broken Turkish, “Yalan-yalan”, which means a lie or humbug.
She laughed and showed me many versions of the song. I was perplexed. I shared one version of the song on my social media accounts and my Indian friends started debating the origin of the song. A friend claimed that the song was created in the Turkish language, the music was also Turkish and later it was used in Bollywood movies. Now, I was feeling guilty for hurriedly telling my friends in Turkey that they copied our song. I wanted to know more about it. Following the debate on my Facebook account, my search for its originality began. I finally found many links that confirmed that the song was originally Indian and was remade in Turkey. This fact was confirmed by the son of Raj Kapoor – the late Rishi Kapoor, another flamboyant Bollywood actor.
I also came across a research paper by Ahmet Gurata published by the SAGE publication titled ‘Translation and Reception of Indian Cinema in Turkey’ which gives reference to the Turkish dubbed version of the song ‘Awara’ from the original Hindi film Awara (1951) which was picturised on Raj Kapoor and Nargis.
Cinema does not only have the power of uniting two hearts, but also bringing two countries together. It connects people across borders as it does not require a visa. India-Turkey relations are the best example of this. When the unprecedented lockdown was imposed in India due to the COVID-19 outbreak, scores of Indians were watching Resurrection: Ertuğrul (Dirilis Ertugrul). My mother-in-law could not stop herself from watching two series of Ertugrul. The second series did not have subtitles in Urdu, the language she understands, but she still managed to watch it by just guessing the Turkish language.
I remember how our neighbours carefully scheduled their time to watch episodes with their families. As a part of cultural practice in India, we usually exchange food with our neighbours. Especially when something delicious or different is cooked. I remember that the women used to discuss the stories of the consecutive episodes of Ertugrul while they exchanged food. The best part about the series was that it helped non-Muslims in India understand the values of justice (Adl) and truthfulness (Haq) in Islam. Contrary to the dominant mainstream media that generally constructs and shows the stereotyped images of Muslims, the series was being watched by a considerable majority of people, including non-Muslims and many admitted that their views about Islam had changed after watching Ertugrul.
The love and appreciation for Turkish dramas could be sensed when Zee TV’s channel Zindagi started broadcasting the Turkish drama Feriha in 2015. The Indian audience, habitual of watching emotional dramas, loved Feriha and Fatmagul. These dramas were not only offering unique storylines, these were also women-centric themes, based in a foreign country whose culture attracted the Indian audience. Hazal Kaya as Feriha won millions of hearts within a few months. Çağatay Ulusoy as Emir Sarrafoğlu became a dream among Indian girls. The couples were loved immensely. There is a craze about these series and actors in India even today. I believe that these connections through cinema are also attracting many tourists to Turkey.
My experience in Turkey has been amazingly beautiful and much more overwhelming than I was expecting. The moment I mention that I am from India, everyone becomes curious as to whether I am familiar with Aamir Khan. A shopkeeper even asked if I had ever gotten a chance to meet Amir Khan personally.
One day, I went to a local market with my camera to take some photographs. A young boy, who wanted his photo to be taken, shouted, “Ağabey…”. I responded to him with a smile as I could not understand what else he said to me in the Turkish language. I could only guess that he was asking me if I knew Aamir Khan. To quench my curiosity, I asked him to repeat what he said on Google Translate him. I burst into laughter when I realised that he was asking me if I was a part of Aamir Khan’s film production.
Indian cinema, particularly Hindi cinema, has gained popularity around the world. People in almost every corner of the world are aware of India and its culture through Bollywood movies or songs. Turkish people have been greeting me by saying ‘namaste’ very often. When I introduced myself to my Turkish teacher, she made a heart with her fingers – indicating her love for India. She also expressed a desire to buy clothes from India as she has seen many Indian movies.
Not to disappoint the fans of Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), I would also like to mention here that I met many die-hard fans, particularly female fans, of the king of romance in Istanbul. I went to a salon for a haircut and received royal treatment the moment I mentioned that I am from India. The owner of the salon excitedly asked me if I knew Shah Rukh Khan. I told him that I watch his movies and like him too. He then went on to talk about SRK movies, among which, Benim adım Han (My Name Is Khan) is his favourite. I was offered water, coffee and chocolate alongside special treatment of my hair.
I was surprised to know how the old generation of Turkey is also familiar with actors like Amjad Khan, Qadar Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakravarty. When I, along with my wife, shifted to Istanbul and rented a house near the university, we needed to paint our house as it was an old flat. The painter was an interesting guy. A song, ‘Meri umar ke berozgaron‘ (O, unemployed of my age), a satirical version of the original song ‘Meri umar ke naujawano‘ (O, youth of my age) had gone viral at that time. While we listened to the song, the painter in our house seemed to be enjoying the song. He asked me if I was listening to the Rishi Kapoor song. Then he talked about his favourite 1981 film Yaarana, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Amjad Khan. He also knew about Helen, the ‘Mehbooba-Mehbooba’ fame dancer, and Salman Khan’s mother.
I played the song he was talking about and he started enjoying the song from the film Sholay, which he said he had watched many times along with his family. He told me that he loves Amjad Khan and respects his acting skills. To my surprise, one of my Turkish language teachers showed me the pictures of an Indian drama actor Avinash Sachdev and told me that she is a huge fan of his. I had no clue about the actor but my teacher knows a lot about Indian dramas. A friend also told me that Indian serials are very well known in Turkish homes. My wife met with her first Turkish friend who is very close to her now due to their interest in each other countries’ series and cultures. Her Turkish friend told her about Indian series that even my wife had never watched.
For trying the delicacies of Turkish cuisine, I went to a restaurant for dinner and encountered an old man who noticed my Indian accent. He asked me if I was an Indian. I nodded. He then asked me about Mithun Chakraborty. He was even humming one of the actor’s most popular songs, “I am a disco dancer”.
I met with so many such strangers who are not strangers to me anymore, and I will never forget their gestures. These moments will always remind me of the warmth with which the Turkish people love Indian cinema and television. There is no doubt that cinema and television have been a very necessary medium for the strong ties between India and Turkey.
Afroz Alam Sahil is a freelance journalist and author. He can be contacted at @afrozsahil on Twitter.