Indian movies are popular among Somalis in the Horn of Africa region with many households which own TV sets subscribing to at least one Indian channel which airs Bollywood movies and series.
The popularity of these shows is not restricted to the Horn of Africa country but extends to Somalis living in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.
The love of Bollywood can perhaps be epitomised in this quote from one of several Somali pirates who was arrested by the Indian navy in 2011: “I love India and Bollywood. I have seen India on television and started loving it. I want to visit every Indian city,” India’s NDTV reported at the time. Among the items seized from the pirates – besides weapons – were DVDs of Bollywood films.
Popular Somali TV channels, such as London-based Universal TV almost often air Indian soap operas such Kasamh Se (The Promise) on romance and Qubool Hai (I Accept) which is on Islamic stereoptypes. The movies are dubbed into Somali thus enabling viewers to follow the plot without any language barriers.
Cinema halls, and movie stores in the region, aimed at Somali audiences, almost exclusively screen or sell Indian films.
The popularity of the movies has also promoted Indian music, featured in the films, among Somalis. This music is often played at home or during weddings.
Before Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabab group emerged youths in the northeastern Kenya border town of Mandera would occasionally cross over into Somalia’s Buulo Haawo to watch Indian movies. This was as a result of Muslim clerics, and the local authorities, clamping down on cinema halls which have sometimes been perceived as enticing school children into truancy.
Cinema halls in Al-Shabab-held areas in Somalia are inoperativel as the Al-Qaeda-linked group considers pop culture “unIslamic”.
In 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts – the precursor to Al-Shabab – which was in control of central and southern Somalia, arrested, and flogged, many people for watching Indian movies in public entertainment spots.
In 2014, Al-Shabab banned the sale and use of smart phones in areas under its control. Part of the reason was to prevent locals from downloading and watching movies, or listening to songs, through their phones.
Somalis are also increasingly obtaining Bollywood gossip from websites and blogs which publish in their vernacular. Some of the popular websites for news and information on Indian films include Netherlands-based Fagaare.com and Raaciye.com.
A few years ago, an online forum, Somalinet Forum, hosted a discussion on whether Somali women should be allowed to watch Indian movies with critics opposing the shows saying they would encourage them to “ask their husbands to treat them the way Bollywood actors treat their partnersly.
Bollywood influence is common among students. Popular girls have often been given nicknames such as Kajol or Priyanka derived from star actresses Kajol Devgan and Priyanka Chopra. Boys on the other hand have been nicknamed after characters such Karan and Arjun, rather than the actors themselves.
Shah Ruh Khan, Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan are among the most popular Indian actors among Somalis.
Not every actor is referred to by his actual name. For example Akshay Kumar is often referred to as Mr Bond for his role in the eponymous 1992 movie directed by Raj Sippy.
Another actor, Amitabh Bachchan, is popularly known as Ali Dheere – the tall Ali – because of his height. Ali is a popular Somali name and it is easier for most Somalis since his real name is difficult to pronounce. Bachchan gained popularity in India’s film industry in the 1970s and is one of the most influential Bollywood actors.
Indian films, unlike productions from Hollywood and Nigeria’s Nollywood, are popular due to cultural similarities between Somalis and Indians. Hollywood is seen as violent and full of nudity and indecency.
Somali families gather in front of their tv screens to watch their favourite films.
“I like watching Indian films, we do have some similarities. We wear the saris as the Indian women and they don’t show indecency films,” Amina Ali, a university student in Nairobi told Gosahan.
The plots usually revolve around the themes of love, family relations, and arranged marriages, which attract Somali audiences.
The Indian female dress, the sari, is almost similar to the Somali ‘garba saar’ while women in both societies don’t kiss in public. Similarly, the fact that members of extended Indian families often live together is a trait that Somalis can closely identify with.
However, despite Bollywood’s popularity few realise the shared cultural connection between these two societies on either side of the Indian Ocean.