My Name is Khan (MNIK) is one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year. The embarrassing sentimentality of its scenes, which promote a cheesy, highly simplistic race-and-religion-transcending solidarity, make it unwatchable in parts. Bollywood’s alpha males – the Khans and the Roshans – are no longer overtly alpha-male, but they still are superhuman in other ways: they deliver babies using vacuum cleaners (3 Idiots); they invent new devices and fix just about anything (3 Idiots and MNIK); and most importantly, they live the most ideal and moral lives, are tremendously compassionate, follow their own unique visions, and deliver telling truths.
What else is this if not poorly concealed narcissism?
But my post isn’t supposed to be a rant on the modern day Indian superhero. Rather, it’s a rambling account on how I came to know of the popularity of a certain Khan in an unlikely city: Lima, Peru. This shouldn’t surprise us, given how interconnected the world is today. In fact, most Africans and Central Asians I’ve spoken to are decently well versed with Bollywood.
And yet Lima? The Latin American capital is halfway across the world from India; besides Peruvians have as little clue about Indians as Indians about Peruvians. Still, Shahrukh has succeeded in establishing himself there, to the same extent that Machu Pichu – that most iconic and magical of archaeological sites – has succeeded in becoming a much sought after destination for Indians with money (when I landed in Lima, prominent among the names displayed on cutouts by the receiving parties at the airport, were “Mukherjee” and “Patel”).
Once, during a bus ride in Lima, I was seated across from the driver. He was a cheerful man. When he learned where I was from, he looked at me with a sort of awe that can only come from having discovered something immeasurably exotic. He announced my nationality a few times to the ticket collector, who wasn’t impressed. After we’d got past discussing Taj Mahal, he settled on Shahrukh Khan, with whom he was clearly besotted. Unfortunately, I was reduced to speaking in gestures and nodding sagely though I understood very little of what he was saying.
At a Peruvian-owned DVD shop a few blocks away from downtown Lima, near the Rimac river, I found an entire section dedicated to Bollywood. There was a massive poster of Jodhaa Akbar, with Hrithik and Aishwarya prominent. But if you look closely, a Khan poster lurks behind to the right, sidelined and only partly visible.
But Khan shouldn't feel slighted, for the most artistic of tributes to him in Lima comes from this illustrator, whom I found busy at work in a street not far from the DVD shop.
Just when Shahrukh seemed undisputed king in Lima, I learned that the immensely popular Thalaivar, who drives Tamil fans wild, has actually graced the land of the Incas for a song shoot at Machu Pichu in the Andean highlands (picture credits here). As can be seen, we have a feathered Aishwarya hopping with a bearded and macho looking Rajnikant. If the extras were local, then it follows that the Indians of India must have danced with the Indians of Peru.
I am sure the spirits of the dead Incas must have doubled in laughter upon watching this: “So these are the people we were mistaken for?”
Update: There is even a fan page on Facebook, called Bollywood Peru.