Bollywood craze appears to have gripped Ethiopian youth. They are willing to sit through a usually three-hour-long movie at a shanty-house with only an unskilled translator as their guide to a language they do not understand.
Most of the translators in this East African nation of 85 million people, with old ties to India, are hardly fluent; so audiences make guestimates based on the very expressive faces of the actors.
Thus, it is quite common in this capital and in other cities across to see youngsters and the not-so-young mimicking scenes out of movies like Ram Jaane, Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, Jeena Sirf Mere Liye, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Mujhse Dosti Karoge!, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein, Dosti, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Chori Chori Chupke Chupke while speaking in the native Amharic.
Getachew Diriba, 33, is one of the popular translators in the capital, born and brought up in the Addis Ketema neighbourhood where there were three cinemas and innumerable shanty-houses showing Bollywood films.
He translated his first film, Laadla (1994) when he was just 19. It opened his eyes to Hindi cinema though back then, he was paid only eight birr (less than 50 cents). What kept him going was the repeated clapping of the audiences. Now, he’s lost track of the number of movies he has translated.
“It was fun,” Diriba told IANS. “It was like being in a football field where fans shout, jump and clap whenever their team performs well. I was in the middle of things, voicing the actions on the screen to those who had no idea of Hindi,” he added.
He believes that translation is not about knowing each and every word spoken so he does so contextually. Most of the time he happens to be right, for what he says and the action on screen are somehow similar.
“It’s hard to say I am fluent. Reading about India helped me to get the main points right” Diriba added.
How does he do it? By sitting in the front row and speaking very loudly so that the 200-odd people sitting and standing around him can hear.
Cinema Ethiopia, which is among the oldest and most popular theatres showing Hindi movies, first started doing so at the time of the Italian occupation (1936-41) on the recommendations of its film suppliers, who were Indians. It is the place that has stamped the memory of Hindi movies on the hearts of Ethiopians.
It is in this cinema that Asmera Belachew, 60, a retired accountant who has been watching Hindi movies since she was 10, cried with Nargis in Mother India. Ditto with Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana.
Decades ago, Hindi movies came with Arabic subtitles and she had no clue about either language. Yet, the movies had her mesmerised.
There are other ways too of accessing Hindi movies. For instance, at Merkato, perhaps the largest open market in Africa, where there are more than 70 shops that rent out Hindi movies. Many of them download from the internet but some like Israel Dibaba, the owner of Debora Records, obtains them from travellers and other sources.
Dibaba, who says he and his friends were planning to celebrate the centenary of Hindi cinema but the plans unfortunately fell through, sells some 15 CDs a day for 20 birr each, earning him 300 birr.
He has a collection of movies from the 1960s till the most recent ones; from those with legendary actors like Rajesh Khanna to those with Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan.
Quite naturally, Hindi movies have impacted on local directors and filmmakers.
“In Hindi films, the depth of the human factor is a reflection of society and this enables communication with the audiences, even if they are from a different culture and tradition,” Yonas Berhane Mewa, managing director of Ethio Films, said.
He is now planning a film on an Ethiopian family and is referring to Mother India to study how Nargis essayed her role.
“The movie is about an Ethiopian mother who goes through a very difficult time in life and this has been clearly presented in an incredible way in ‘Mother India’,” Mewa said.