In fact, the first time I realized the huge impact of Bollywood’s movers and shakers, not just in our country but far beyond, was years back in 1995, when I had interviewed Surat Mirkasymov — he was Uzbekistan’s very first ambassador to India.
I was taken aback not just by the fluent Hindustani that Surat Mirkasymov spoke but also by his knowledge of Bollywood films and those film stars. Before I got down to interviewing him about his country and the diplomatic ties between his country and India (that was to be the thrust of this interview) I had to settle those ‘whys’ hitting my head. I had to ask him the ‘why’ to his fluent Hindustani, his love for Bollywood film and film- stars.
Responding to my eager queries, the Uzbek ambassador offloaded a tale; on which a full- fledged feature film could be made. Let me start off by writing those details to what he kept offloading, in between eating dried apricots – “These apricots are from our Farghana Valley… My love for Hindustani language. Why? Learnt it, mastered it because of my love for your country’s cinema… Actually whilst I was still in school (Tashkent’s famous school No.24, which was later named after Lal Bahadur Shastri), the city had some special visitors. This was around 1954, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had sent a delegation of film stars — Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and several others, to the first film festival of India in Tashkent. And several movies were screened —Awaara, Baiju Bawra, Do Beegha Zameen …you can’t imagine how I felt when I saw these stars and their films. I can’t describe what I felt .Yes, something happened to me!”
With that take –off, Surat Mirkasymov used his strong determination to master the languages – Hindi and Urdu, so that he could grasp details to our films and the filmi world. “Yes, I was absolutely determined to master these two languages, Urdu and Hindi. And so just after my schooling, I enrolled at the newly opened Oriental Faculty of the Tashkent University. But then there was a major hitch. There was no teacher to be found in the whole of Tashkent who could teach us Urdu and Hindi… Finally, one day we were told that there was an Indian prisoner lodged at Tashkent’s Central Jail who could teach us. And he was academic-scholar Madan Mohan Hardat and an expert on these languages. After he was freed from jail he became our guru and its only because of him I could master these two languages.”