Sweida: Standing amidst elegant Corinthian columns dating back to the Roman times against the backdrop of pristine blue skies, Amwaj`s mind travels back to `Veer-Zaara`, a Bollywood film she saw sometime back that left her deeply moved.
She tries to recall the name of the movie, but her memory seems to be playing tricks. "It`s a love story, and it`s about an Indian prisoner in Pakistan. I was touched by the film," she says wistfully. "I love Indian films. They are rich with music, dance and emotions," Amwaj Sadden Shalgheen, a Syrian official in Sweida City, located nearly 90 km away from the Syrian capital Damascus, told a visiting reporters correspondent.
Sweida, a Druze province in southwestern Syria and a famous wine-producing region that not many outside the region know of, boasts of a 2,000-year-old temple dedicated to Dionysius, the Greek god of wine. Sweida City, home to picturesque locales and spectacular ancient ruins, could in fact make for a perfect setting for a Bollywood love story.
European tourists may have deserted Syria after the sanctions in the wake of protests 13 months ago, and conflict in rebel strongholds like Homs and Daraa may have impacted the psyche of Syrians, but hard times have not dimmed Syrians` passions for Indian films and music.
If they know you are from India, Syrians, old and young, will tell you a thing of two about Indian films and their favourite film stars. Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are familiar names in Syria.
And Aishwarya Rai is a byword for beauty and glamour. Nasreen, a 20-something pretty girl, is delighted when she is told she looks like Aishwarya Rai. "I love Aishwarya. She is jameela (the Arabic word for beautiful). I enjoyed watching `Devdas`," Nasreen told IANS in her stuttering English, flavoured with Arabic.
Walking through the streets of Old Damascus and the bustling souks (markets) flaunting a mind-boggling assortment of candies, spices and dry fruits, one can hear strains of Hindi film music afloat in the evening chill. Yaseer, an expatriate Syrian who has returned to set up a restaurant in the old city, is jubilant at seeing a group of Indians. When you ask him about India, he starts humming "Karoon Main Kyaa Suku Suku", the well-known foot-thumping number from Shammi Kapoor`s film "Junglee" (1961).
Ghassin, a tourist guide, says whenever he finds time, he catches up with Bollywood films which are often shown on Syrian TV channels, dubbed in Arabic. Sitting in the luxurious lobby of a five-star hotel, it was delightful to flip open a Syrian TV channel and find Priyanka Kapoor-starrer "Saat Khoon Maaf`. It seems there is no stopping Bollywood in these murderous times!